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Ozone and Climate Change

Don Wyeth

Ozone and Climate Change

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3 mins
November 17, 2021

What is ozone and what is the ozone layer in our atmosphere? The Oxford dictionary defines ozone as “…a colorless unstable toxic gas with a pungent odor and powerful oxidizing properties, formed from oxygen by electrical discharges or ultraviolet light. It differs from normal oxygen (O2) in having three atoms in its molecule (O3).” Do you recall that fresh clean smell in the air after a thunderstorm? That's ozone. The ozone layer is “… a layer in the earth's stratosphere at an altitude of about 6.2 miles (10 km) containing a high concentration of ozone, which absorbs most of the ultraviolet radiation reaching the earth from the sun.” If the ozone was not there, we would fry to a nice golden brown. No sunscreen can save you from that.  

A NASA report concludes that normally a loop is formed when the oxygen molecules rejoin with the single oxygen atoms. The relationship between the ozone levels in our atmosphere and climate change appears to be cyclic.No matter how the oxygen atoms are produced, they almost always quickly react with oxygen molecules, reforming ozone.” nasa.gov. NASA has shown that as more atmospheric pollutants get into the atmosphere, they compete for the free oxygen atoms formed by interaction with sunlight. The net result is that as pollutants increase, less ozone is available to act filter out ultraviolet rays that would otherwise reach the earth’s surface. It is a very simple equation.

During a climate summit held at Kyoto Japan, seven harmful molecular pollutants were identified as greenhouse gases. They are, in order, CO2, methane (CH4); nitrous oxide (N2O); hydro and perfluorocarbons [(HFCs, PFCs); sulphur hexafluoride (SF6); and nitrogen trifluoride (NF3). Carbon dioxide (CO2) is caused by fossil fuel combustion, deforestation and cement production. Methane (CH4)’s main sources are fossil fuel production, agriculture, and landfills. Nitrous oxide (N2O) comes primarily from fertilizer application, fossil fuel and biomass combustion, and industrial processes. HFCs and PFCs are both refrigerants. Electricity transmission produces large amounts of sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). Nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) is a byproduct of semiconductor manufacturing. All of these molecules are released into the atmosphere on a daily basis directly competing against normal ozone production.

The bottom line is that greenhouse gases like the ones mentioned above are all instrumental in retaining heat at the surface of the earth. It is well documented that from the rise of the industrial era in the 19 century to the present day, the levels of these gases in our atmosphere have multiplied exponentially. Not acting on and ameliorating this issue is not a choice. And if we do act, there is some potentially good news. “Concentrations of ozone-depleting substances are expected to decline over the coming century, bringing a gradual recovery of the ozone layer.”  cloud1.arc.nasa.gov. It must be done for our children and their children.


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Don Wyeth

Passionate and intelligent columnist from Madison, WI.

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