Coastal Post Online

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October 2001

Ozone Depletion and Global Warming:

Kyoto Meets Montreal

By Jim Scanlon

Right now, the Antarctic Ozone Hole is fully developed and right on schedule. Last year it broke a very ominous pattern of lasting into December when summer begins in the Southern Hemisphere: it broke up in November.

It seem, however, unlikely that this early breakup will continue since the recovery of the ozone layer is not expected for another fifty years-if everything goes well!

In 1998 scientists from the Goddard Institute for Space Flight Studies at Columbia University in New York published a paper in Nature, a highly regarded scientific journal, which was received skeptically, advancing the theory that the increase in heat trapping gases in the atmosphere (global warming) was decreasing the transfer of warmth that flows on Planetary Waves from the equator to the north and south polar stratospheres. This theory was the only one advanced to explain the sudden stability of the Arctic Winter Vortex and the equally sudden massive loss of ozone.

The implications of the observed facts, and of the theory was that "global warming" was contributing to a worsening of ozone depletion. While the ozone losses around the Arctic (where millions of people live) were not as great as around the Antarctic (where a few hundred thousands live), they are expected to grow over the next 20-70 years, so the effects on the environment and human health are uncertain and unpredictable, but it doesn't look good.

On September 17, 2001 NASA issued a press release which confirms a major part of the theory of the scientists at Goddard Columbia. Using 22 years of satellite data. a new study confirms that the planetary waves that circle the earth regulate the temperature and play a role in controlling ozone loss.

During 1984 the stratosphere [over the northern hemisphere] did not get cold enough for significant ozone loss to occur. During that year there were more frequent and stronger planetary waves.

Other years, such as 1997, the long waves in the atmosphere were less frequent and weaker, resulting in colder stratospheric temperatures and significant ozone destruction.

The NASA press release made no mention of the hypothesis that the frequency of the "long waves" is influenced by a warming of the troposphere by waste gases from human activities, although that was clearly implied in the Nature paper, and the new confirmation should increase the urgency for the US to act in some way to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

This confirmation will assist researchers in refining computer simulations of the earth's climate and allow greater confidence in the prediction of climate change.

The lower atmosphere of the earth is subject to rapid, sometimes violent change. Pollutants reside there for relatively short periods of time. The stratosphere is a stable layer of gases from about 6 to 30 miles where ozone is found mostly in the lower part. Ozone, which is highly corrosive and toxic in the biosphere, filters the more energetic shorter wavelengths of sunlight so that too much does not reach the surface of the earth. Too much exposure to ultraviolet radiation results in skin damage which can lead to skin cancers and other environmental damage to plants and animals.

Ultraviolet radiation at some level is also important for human health, mediating the synthesis of vitamin D in the skin which is believed to play a role in preventing cancers of all kinds. Biomass burning and industrial air pollution prevent beneficial exposure to ultraviolet and also allow disease germs and insects to proliferate.

Note: The NASA press release quotes Dr. Paul Newman a leading researcher who headed the 1999 Stratospheric Ozone Loss Validation Experiment which was conducted our of Sweden. In 1998 the Coastal Post spoke to him about the Shindell Nature paper (after Drew Shindell the lead author) and he was highly skeptical and said NASA would be examine the data. So, it appears that the data changed Newman's mind, at least in part.

The Coastal Post also spoke to Dr. Ross Salawitch who reviewed the Shindell paper in Nature and this conversation had a significant effect on your reporter. When the Coastal Post questioned Salawitch in an elevator at a hotel in Virginia Beach during a conference on the Atmospheric Effects of Aviation, Salawitch asked if I had a copy of Nature with me. He grabbed the journal from my hands and flipped the pages to his review. He took out an expensive ink pen, crossed out a word and wrote in another before looking up at me. He said there had been a mistake-much worse than a typo!-that everyone had missed in the editorial process.

Over the years, mere typographical errors and mistakes of one kind or another had been a source of angry arguments and hurt and hard feelings at the Coastal Post, with yours truly being particularly sensitive. Realizing that prominent researchers might suffer an uncorrected mistake in a prominent international Science Journal such as Nature humbled me and I never again complained about a typo in the Coastal Post.

 

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