Impact of Ozone

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Ozone is a gas that occurs naturally in our atmosphere. Most of it is concentrated in the ozone layer[->0], a region located in the stratosphere several miles above the surface of the Earth. Although ozone represents only a small fraction of the gas present in the atmosphere, it plays a vital role by shielding humans and other life from harmful ultraviolet light from the Sun. Human activities in the last several decades have produced chemicals, such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which have been released into the atmosphere and have contributed to the depletion [->1]of this important protective layer. When scientists realized the destructive effect these chemicals could have on the ozone layer, international agreements [->2]were put in place to limit such emissions. As a result, it is expected that the ozone layer will recover in the coming decades. Ozone is a highly reactive form of oxygen. An ozone molecule is composed of three oxygen atoms (O3), instead of the two oxygen atoms in the molecular oxygen (O2) that we need in order to survive. In the upper atmosphere (stratosphere), the protective ozone layer is beneficial to people because it shields us from the harmful effects of ultra-violet radiation. However, ozone in the lower atmosphere (troposphere) is a powerful oxidizing agent that can damage human lung tissue and the tissue found in the leaves of plants Ozone is also a greenhouse gas [->3]in the upper atmosphere and, therefore, plays a role in Earth's climate. The increases in primary greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide[->4], may affect how the ozone layer recovers in coming years. Understanding precisely how ozone abundances will change in a future with diminished chlorofluorocarbon emissions and increased emissions of greenhouse gases remains an important challenge for atmospheric scientists in NOAA and other research centers. 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. 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...
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