Coastal Post Online


December, 2003

Massive Climate Change Attributed to Ozone Depletion.
By Jim Scanlon

While political pundits argue endlessly about whether "global warming" is occurring, it is something of an surprise that scientists are reporting that stratospheric ozone depletion is directly connected with the massive climate changes that are affecting the higher latitudes of both hemispheres.
These changes are most obvious at high latitudes of the southern hemisphere where temperatures have risen almost 3C over the past forty years, wind patterns have changed and speeds have increased, atmospheric pressure has changed and rainfall in areas like southern Australia has decreased 15 to 20%. In the north, sea ice is retreating, Arctic ice disappearing, in Alaska artificial snow is used for dog sled races, permafrost is melting, polar bears and walrus are threatened ... the list goes on and on.
In May 2002, two prominent American scientists, Susan Solomon and David Thompson presented convincing evidence (Science Vol. 296, 3 May 2002) that the physical effects of stratospheric ozone depletion account for most of the observed climate change in the Southern Hemisphere. Both scientists are at the pinnacle of their profession. Solomon was the lead author in the 1986 paper in Nature that explained the nature of the catastrophic destruction of ozone that occurs in the formation of "ozone holes."
Springtime levels of Antarctic stratospheric ozone have declined, around 50% during the past twenty years. At the same time the strength of the winds that blow around Antarctica, the polar vortex, has increased, as well as cooling over most of Antarctica within the vortex. Temperatures just outside the vortex have gone up. Huge ice sheets are disintegrating on the Antarctic Peninsula and the coastal glaciers of Patagonia, further north on the South American mainland, are shrinking rapidly. The dynamic response of the climate to the effects of ozone depletion neatly fits together with most of the observed changes, not only in the southern hemisphere, and also in the north.
Just recently in October 2003, a state of the art computer simulation provided further evidence that waste gases from industrial countries, "have had a distinct impact on climate, not only at stratospheric levels, but at the earth's surface as well". This is about as close as scientific studies get to be considered "true" or as "proof".
In April 1998, researchers at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) at Columbia University in New York proposed an explanation of increased Arctic ozone loss resulting from climate change resulting from "global warming". Results from a massive investigation by NASA and European Union investigators working out of Kiruna Sweden, during the northern hemisphere winter of 1999/2000 (SOLVE) supported and confirmed the hypothesis.
The Goddard/Columbia study now compliments Solomon and Thompson (or visa versa) and illustrates the interconnected unity of the atmosphere and the importance of stratospheric ozone and the Montreal Protocol.
As recently as 2001 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, (an elite group of internationally recognized scientists) implied that these kinds of changes were due to the increase in heat trapping (greenhouse) gases from human industrial processes. While greenhouse gases are still extremely important, their effects on climate now seem to be less than that of ozone depletion-resulting from the gases that propelled the hair spray of yesterday! (To oversimplify somewhat!). What was bad just got worse!
Ozone is made when oxygen molecules are broken apart by extremely energetic wavelengths of ultraviolet solar radiation in the upper tropical stratosphere. Ozone made there, then gets continuously transported north and south to the poles. Oxygen, essential to most life on earth, is a waste product of plant respiration which took thousands of millions of years for single celled plants to produce in sufficient amounts to make our world livable.
The ozone layer is usually described as important because it "shields us from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation". It certainly can be harmful, but we also need ultraviolet sunlight for our bodies to make vitamin D. It kills germs. If children don't get enough, their bones don't grow properly.
But, too much is bad! It burns our skin and can damage DNA, to name just a few of the problems too much can provoke. Beyond human health, too much UV can seriously affect terrestrial and marine life and anything made out of organic molecules like plastic, rubber and paint. You can see what it does to sheet plastic left in the sun.
When ozone (made from very short wave ultraviolet) reacts with short wave ultraviolet radiation from the sun, it absorbs energy and warms the surrounding atmosphere. The resulting warm stratosphere is a kind of "inversion layer" that makes up the structure of the atmosphere. Take away ozone and you take away heat, so that as it cools, it contracts, changing its pressure and shape, thereby losing its original structure. This is what has been, and is, happening, now, today. There really is no end in sight to this process.
This is not new. It has been known for many years, although the reader will, most likely, not have heard of it. In 1988, John Gribbin's book "A Hole in the Sky" reported on a 1985 conference in Berlin on the newly discovered "Ozone Hole," in which concern was expressed that "... the structure of the atmosphere is being changed". That was almost 20 years ago.
In the 1960s and 1970s there was great concern that a proposed fleet of supersonic transports which would fly in the stratosphere and deplete ozone would result in increased ultraviolet radiation, increased skin cancer etc., etc. The fleet was never built due to financial considerations and problems associated with property damage from sonic booms. Only a small fleet of supersonic British/French Concords flew until just recently in November 2003.
When it was realized that CFCs, very useful, non toxic, highly stable gases with numberless industrial uses, were getting into the stratosphere where they were liberating chlorine which was destroying ozone, a movement was started that resulted in the forerunner of the Montreal Protocol which imposed limits on the production of CFCs.
The concern then was for the "gas phase" reactions that destroy ozone. That is, a liberated chlorine molecule hits an ozone molecule and breaks it apart. It does this for a while until it reacts with another molecule that locks it up. This is a slow reaction that is still going on today, day in day out, resulting in a relatively small, but continuous, loss of ozone around the globe. This is the process that is, still today, usually understood as "ozone depletion."
But there was an unexpected surprise in the mid 1980s (Solomon's first paper) when it was discovered that ozone could be destroyed catastrophically by "heterogeneous chemical reactions," that is, on the surfaces of particles in the stratosphere, mostly on water ice, or acid slush. This process requires very low temperatures. In the Antarctic these low temperatures occur frequently. In the Arctic they are not so frequent, but with just a little more cooling, you can get an Arctic Ozone Hole. The chlorine and bromine are there, waiting, so to speak. The CFCs react on ice surfaces and then, in the springtime, at the end of the dark winter night. when the first weak rays of the sun strike-POOF-goes the ozone!
Since the appearance of the Ozone Hole, concern has been focused solely on the rapid reactions that destroy ozone. The slow reactions, nibbling away constantly, have been ignored or completely forgotten. Now, sub sonic aircraft routinely fly in the stratosphere 25% of the time or more, and their effects are forgotten and ignored.
With the updated and increased strictures of the Montreal Protocol (which the Bush and Swartzenegger Administrations are now trying to evade) it was thought that the ozone layer would "heal", i.e. return to pre 1980 levels, around 2000 or 2001. This "recovery" has now been pushed back to 2050 or 2070 or even 2100 (Which seems so absurd as to be like something of a cruel joke told to a fool by a con man.)
Things do not look good. The democratic system of government that has served the United States so well, for so long, seems incompetent and totally inadequate and unable to deal with the ignorant, corrupted business criminals that rule our country, and control the destiny of all of us.


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