Silenced Science: Arctic Ozone Loss
By Jim Scanlon
Vital information on environmental change is being withheld from the public by the print and broadcast media.
Eight related empirical studies concerning drastically reduced springtime Arctic ozone appeared in the November 1997 issue of Geophysical Research Letters (GRL). These peer-reviewed articles were submitted by prestigious authors (including one Nobel Prize winner) from a number of well-known scientific institutions, mostly in the US and Canada. (The Professional and Scholarly Division of the Association of American Publishers subsequently acclaimed this issue of GRL the "best single issue of a journal" for 1997.)
Despite the enormous attention devoted to the massive springtime loss of stratospheric ozone in the Southern Hemisphere (the Antarctic Ozone Hole was recognized officially in the pages of Nature in 1985), there has been no mention in news sections of either Nature or Science of the massive ozone loss in the north that has been occurring regularly since 1993. Neither has there been mention of this phenomena in the general media.
It is inconceivable that the editors and staff of Nature or Science were unaware of the significance of these findings. Similarly, the New York Times? Science Times also ignored the Arctic ozone story but chose to write feature articles on two other stories that appeared in this issue: "Dinosaurs With Feathers" and "Deadly Relic of the Great War." How could ScienceTimes editors have missed the ozone story?
The appearance of the Antarctic Ozone Hole was a major cultural phenomena that lead to the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement to reduce ozone- destroying chemicals. The appearance of a second ozone hole over the Northern Hemisphere less than a decade later would appear to require even more rigorous changes. That may be why there is such reluctance to acknowledge the crisis.
Although the stratospheric load of ozone-depleting substances such as chlorine and bromine has not yet peaked, scientists routinely speak of "he recovery of the ozone layer." The implication of decreasing stratospheric temperature is that a reduction in chemicals that catalyze ozone destruction will not, in and of itself, promote "ozone recovery." Colder conditions increase the ozone-destroying efficiency of these chemicals.
Chlorine-gas emissions are expected to peak between 2000 and 2010, but if fossil-fuel burning is not curtailed radically, ozone loss from greenhouse-gas- induced stratospheric cooling is likely to increase in both severity and duration over the coming decades. Stratospheric cooling may push the maximum level of Arctic ozone-depletion back to between 2010 and 2019. This means that increased levels of springtime ultraviolet radiation will rain down on densely populated parts of Eurasia and North America for the next two decades.
Climate change on the order of 10,000 years is often described as "rapid." When unprecedented climate-change occurs in a decade or two, this can only be described as "catastrophic." That is what we are seeing right now.
Increasing concentrations of heat-trapping gases contribute to ozone depletion by lowering stratospheric temperatures and creating a more stable polar vortex that extends the colder temperatures into the springtime.
Nature's June 25 news section reported that "Ozone recovery will be a long- term affair." The short news article criticized India, China, and Third World nations for releasing ozone-destroying chemicals but failed to mention the ozone-depleting role of the "greenhouse effect" (primarily caused by fossil-fuel burning in the industrialized North).
In a letter in the April 9 issue of Nature, Drew T. Shindell, David Rind and Patrick Lonergan from NASA?s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Center for Climate Systems Research [Columbia University, 2880 Broadway, New York, NY 10025], noted that "Increased concentrations of greenhouse gases might be at least partly responsible for the very large Arctic ozone losses observed in recent winters." According to computer models, Arctic ozone losses will peak in the decade from 2010 to 2019 with local losses of up to two-thirds of the Arctic ozone column in the worst years.
The situation in the Arctic has enormous implications for the operation of the unregulated free market of the modern "combustion economies." Considering the resistance by US energy corporations to the Kyoto Climate Summit proposals, this news, if it is ever reported by the mainstream media, will not be welcomed.
What You Can Do: Send copies of this article to your political and media representatives. The American Geophysical Union will address these topics at its December 1998 meeting in San Francisco.
Jim Scanlon is a reporter for the Coastal Post [PO Box 31, Bolinas, CA 94924. (415) 868-1600, www.coastalpost.com] in which a longer version of this story first appeared.
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