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The ozone layer is a layer in Earth's atmosphere which contains relatively high concentrations of ozone (O3). This layer absorbs 93–99% of the sun's high frequency ultraviolet light, which is potentially damaging to life on earth.[1] Over 91% of the ozone in Earth's atmosphere is present here.[1] It is mainly located in the lower portion of the stratosphere from approximately 10 km to 50 km above Earth, though the thickness varies seasonally and geographically.[2] The ozone layer was discovered in 1913 by the French physicists Charles Fabry and Henri Buisson. Its properties were explored in detail by the British meteorologist G. M. B. Dobson, who developed a simple spectrophotometer (the Dobsonmeter) that could be used to measure stratospheric ozone from the ground. Between 1928 and 1958 Dobson established a worldwide network of ozone monitoring stations which continues to operate today. The "Dobson unit", a convenient measure of the columnar density of ozone overhead, is named in his honour.

Contents

Origin of ozone

Ozone-oxygen cycle in the ozone layer.

The photochemical mechanisms that give rise to the ozone layer were discovered by the British physicist Sidney Chapman in 1930. Ozone in the Earth's stratosphere is created by ultraviolet light striking oxygen molecules containing two oxygen atoms (O2), splitting them into individual oxygen atoms (atomic oxygen); the atomic oxygen then combines with unbroken O2 to create ozone, O3. The ozone molecule is also unstable (although, in the stratosphere, long-lived) and when ultraviolet light hits ozone it splits into a molecule of O2 and an atom of atomic oxygen, a continuing process called the ozone-oxygen cycle, thus creating an ozone layer in the stratosphere, the region from about 10 to 50 km (32,000 to 164,000 feet) above Earth's surface. About 90% of the ozone in our atmosphere is contained in the stratosphere. Ozone concentrations are greatest between about 20 and 40 km, where they range from about 2 to 8 parts per million. If all of the ozone were compressed to the pressure of the air at sea level, it would be only a few millimeters thick.[citation needed]

Ultraviolet light and ozone

Levels of ozone at various altitudes and blocking of ultraviolet radiation.
UV-B energy levels at several altitudes. Blue line shows DNA sensitivity. Red line shows surface energy level with 10% decrease in ozone

Although the concentration of the ozone in the ozone layer is very small, it is vitally important to life because it absorbs biologically harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation coming from the Sun. UV radiation is divided into three categories, based on its wavelength; these are referred to as UV-A (400–315 nm), UV-B (315–280 nm), and UV-C (280–100 nm). UV-C, which would be very harmful to humans, is entirely screened out by ozone at around 35 km altitude. UV-B radiation can be harmful to the skin and is the main cause of sunburn; excessive exposure can also cause genetic damage, resulting in problems such as skin cancer. The ozone layer is very effective at screening out UV-B; for radiation with a wavelength of 290 nm, the intensity at the top of the atmosphere is 350 million times stronger than at the Earth's surface. Nevertheless, some UV-B reaches the surface. Most UV-A reaches the surface; this radiation is significantly less harmful, although it can potentially cause genetic damage.

Distribution of ozone in the stratosphere

The thickness of the ozone layer—that is, the total amount of ozone in a column overhead—varies by a large factor worldwide, being in general smaller near the equator and larger towards the poles. It also varies with season, being in general thicker during the spring and thinner during the autumn in the northern hemisphere. The reasons for this latitude and seasonal dependence are complicated, involving atmospheric circulation patterns as well as solar intensity.

Since stratospheric ozone is produced by solar UV radiation, one might expect to find the highest ozone levels over the tropics and the lowest over polar regions. The same argument would lead one to expect the highest ozone levels in the summer and the lowest in the winter. The observed behavior is very different: most of the ozone is found in the mid-to-high latitudes of the northern and southern hemispheres, and the highest levels are found in the spring, not summer, and the lowest in the autumn, not winter in the northern hemisphere. During winter, the ozone layer actually increases in depth. This puzzle is explained by the prevailing stratospheric wind patterns, known as the Brewer-Dobson circulation. While most of the ozone is indeed created over the tropics, the stratospheric circulation then transports it poleward and downward to the lower stratosphere of the high latitudes. However in the southern hemisphere, owing to the ozone hole phenomenon, the lowest amounts of column ozone found anywhere in the world are over the Antarctic in the southern spring period of September and October.

Brewer-Dobson circulation in the ozone layer.

The ozone layer is higher in altitude in the tropics, and lower in altitude in the extratropics, especially in the polar regions. This altitude variation of ozone results from the slow circulation that lifts the ozone-poor air out of the troposphere into the stratosphere. As this air slowly rises in the tropics, ozone is produced by the overhead sun which photolyzes oxygen molecules. As this slow circulation bends towards the mid-latitudes, it carries the ozone-rich air from the tropical middle stratosphere to the mid-and-high latitudes lower stratosphere. The high ozone concentrations at high latitudes are due to the accumulation of ozone at lower altitudes.

The Brewer-Dobson circulation moves very slowly. The time needed to lift an air parcel from the tropical tropopause near 16 km (50,000 ft) to 20 km is about 4–5 months (about 30 feet (9.1 m) per day). Even though ozone in the lower tropical stratosphere is produced at a very slow rate, the lifting circulation is so slow that ozone can build up to relatively high levels by the time it reaches 26 km.

Ozone amounts over the continental United States (25°N to 49°N) are highest in the northern spring (April and May). These ozone amounts fall over the course of the summer to their lowest amounts in October, and then rise again over the course of the winter. Again, wind transport of ozone is principally responsible for the seasonal evolution of these higher latitude ozone patterns.

The total column amount of ozone generally increases as we move from the tropics to higher latitudes in both hemispheres. However, the overall column amounts are greater in the northern hemisphere high latitudes than in the southern hemisphere high latitudes. In addition, while the highest amounts of column ozone over the Arctic occur in the northern spring (March–April), the opposite is true over the Antarctic, where the lowest amounts of column ozone occur in the southern spring (September–October). Indeed, the highest amounts of column ozone anywhere in the world are found over the Arctic region during the northern spring period of March and April. The amounts then decrease over the course of the northern summer. Meanwhile, the lowest amounts of column ozone anywhere in the world are found over the Antarctic in the southern spring period of September and October, owing to the ozone hole phenomenon.

Ozone depletion

NASA projections of stratospheric ozone concentrations if chlorofluorocarbons had not been banned.

The ozone layer can be depleted by free radical catalysts, including nitric oxide (NO), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydroxyl (OH), atomic chlorine (Cl), and atomic bromine (Br). While there are natural sources for all of these species, the concentrations of chlorine and bromine have increased markedly in recent years due to the release of large quantities of man-made organohalogen compounds, especially chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and bromofluorocarbons.[3] These highly stable compounds are capable of surviving the rise to the stratosphere, where Cl and Br radicals are liberated by the action of ultraviolet light. Each radical is then free to initiate and catalyze a chain reaction capable of breaking down over 100,000 ozone molecules. The breakdown of ozone in the stratosphere results in the ozone molecules being unable to absorb ultraviolet radiation. Consequently, unabsorbed and dangerous ultraviolet-B radiation is able to reach the Earth’s surface.[citation needed] Ozone levels, over the northern hemisphere, have been dropping by 4% per decade. Over approximately 5% of the Earth's surface, around the north and south poles, much larger (but seasonal) declines have been seen; these are the ozone holes.

In 2009, nitrous oxide (N2O) was the largest ozone-depleting substance emitted through human activities. [4]

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Regulation

In 1978, the United States, Canada and Norway, enacted bans on CFC-containing aerosol sprays that are thought to damage the ozone layer. The European Community rejected an analogous proposal to do the same. In the U.S., chlorofluorocarbons continued to be used in other applications, such as refrigeration and industrial cleaning, until after the discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole in 1985. After negotiation of an international treaty (the Montreal Protocol), CFC production was sharply limited beginning in 1987 and phased out completely by 1996.

On August 2, 2003, scientists announced that the depletion of the ozone layer may be slowing down due to the international ban on CFCs.[5] Three satellites and three ground stations confirmed that the upper atmosphere ozone depletion rate has slowed down significantly during the past decade. The study was organized by the American Geophysical Union. Some breakdown can be expected to continue due to CFCs used by nations which have not banned them, and due to gases which are already in the stratosphere. CFCs have very long atmospheric lifetimes, ranging from 50 to over 100 years, so the final recovery of the ozone layer is expected to require several lifetimes.

Compounds containing C–H bonds have been designed to replace the function of CFC's (such as HCFC), since these compounds are more reactive and less likely to survive long enough in the atmosphere to reach the stratosphere where they could affect the ozone layer. While being less damaging than CFC's, HCFC's also have a significant negative impact on the ozone layer. HCFC's are also being phased out.[6]

References

Further reading

  • Seinfeld, John H.; Pandis, Spyros N. (1998). Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics: From Air Pollution to Climate Change. John Wiley and Sons, Inc. ISBN 0-471-17816-0.

External links


Simple English

[[File:|thumb|220px|right|A weather balloon is sent up from the South Pole to measure the ozone layer]]

File:Antarcitc ozone layer 2006 09
NASA photo showing the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica

The ozone layer is a layer of ozone high up in the Earth's atmosphere (stratosphere). In the region between about 10 kilometres and about 50 kilometres above ground, the atmosphere contains more ozone (O3). The exact amount of ozone that can be found varies, the seasons influence it; it is also different in different places on the earth. [1] This layer can absorb between 93 and 99 percent of the ultraviolet radiation from the sun.[2] This radiation is dangerous to many living organisms on earth.

Over the last hundred years the ozone layer has been damaged by man-made chemicals, especially ones called CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons). CFCs were used in spray cans, but also as solvents or as cooling agents in refrigerators. They have been replaced by other substances for most applications. There is now a hole in the layer over Antarctica. This means that there will be more ozone in the atmosphere, and that diseases of the skin which are related to this UV radiation will be more common.

The ozone layer was discovered in 1913 by the French physicists Charles Fabry and Henri Buisson. Its properties were explored in detail by the British meteorologist G. M. B. Dobson, who developed a simple spectrophotometer, the Dobsonmeter. This tool could be used to measure the ozone levels found in the stratosphere from the ground. Between 1928 and 1958 Dobson established a worldwide network of ozone monitoring stations. Most of these stations are still in use today. The "Dobson unit", a convenient measure of the total amount of ozone in a column overhead, is named in his honor.

References

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