The Coastal Post - May, 1998

Ozone Layer May Recover By 2060 And Maybe It Won't

By Jim Scanlon

Stratospheric ozone will worsen considerably over the next twenty years before slowly reverting to the "normal" levels of the 1980s, if all goes well, and nothing "new" comes along according to scientists with the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at Columbia University. This will happen even if the Montreal Protocol which bans the use of substances that deplete ozone is obeyed by all the nations of the earth, and atmospheric levels of chlorine and bromine drop to lower levels.

Drew Shindell (remember that name), David Rind and Patrick Lonergan, writing in the April 9, 1998 issue of Nature, the British International Journal of Science, note that the chemical reactions that deplete ozone are very sensitive to temperature and are very efficient in cold air. As heat trapping gases like CO2 build up in the lower atmosphere, they prevent heat from going further up into the stratosphere thereby cooling that layer.

While scientists have not been able to accurately measure warming of the lower atmosphere and confirm the reality of the so called "Greenhouse Effect", they have detected a measurable cooling of the stratosphere, where most of the ozone is. So less chlorine will go further in destroying ozone as the stratosphere cools. This part seems reasonably certain.

But that is not the worst of it (and this part is not so certain as yet!). Shindell and his colleagues have constructed a computer model which seems to agree with the observed absence of springtime atmospheric waves which warm the north polar region. The absence of this springtime warming isolates, stabilizes and cools the polar vortex, producing the successive Arctic Ozone Holes that have been observed over the last five years.

For some strange reason the major print and broadcast media (with the exception of the Coastal Post) have not reported on the massive ozone depletions over the Arctic since 1993, even though reputable scientists have begun to use the term "Arctic Ozone Hole." (Nature itself has not yet mentioned these depletions.)

The Arctic Ozone Hole is, to be sure, much different from its older, larger, deeper, longer lasting sibling which forms each springtime over Antarctica---but they are clearly relate-and the large human populations living around the Arctic, and the reflective snow and ice that covers the land mass there magnify the consequences enormously.

But the most momentous possibility would be that the researchers from Columbia are right in their assertion that global warming and ozone depletion together, are changing the temperature structure of the atmosphere and weakening planetary atmospheric waves that abruptly warm the Arctic. This would be akin to the stunning discovering that the Gulf Stream, which keeps Western Europe from freezing over, had stopped, or slowed down!

Mostly there is no consensus that climate change on a global scale is occurring. This would be confirmation that change is happening, here, right now-and with a vengeance!

Already European and American scientists are on the alert and a program called SOLVE (Stratospheric Ozone Loss and Validation Experiment) has been funded and is underway to document the record loss of Arctic ozone with U-2 flights and satellite observations during the coming winter. (All without any mention in the media.

To get an idea of the populations most immediately affected, take a look at a globe and find 50 degrees south, the outer limit of the Antarctic Ozone Hole. Perhaps 200 to 300,000 people live within the tiny land area there.

Now look at 50 degrees north and you will see an area in which some 300 to 400 million people live and work.

Normally, there has been much more ozone over the Arctic than the Antarctic to start with, so a, say, fifty percent depletion would still leave the north a little better off than the south with respect to increased levels of ultraviolet radiation.

But the south is little more than ocean while the north is land usually covered in springtime with snow and ice which efficiently reflect ultraviolet. The people who live in the north are mostly light skinned, the ones most seriously affected by UV.

Since the fair skinned, blue eyed, snow and ice loving Norwegians and Swedes are the ones who award Nobel Prizes, there may be some sad consolation for the Columbians if their somber hypothesis receives support from further investigations.

Otherwise their work may not get much attention because their powerful neighbors in New York on Wall Street don't take kindly to this sort of news. Of course, if they had made this sort of announcement in the Soviet Union just a few years ago, they would have been shot.

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