Ozone depletion describes two distinct but related phenomena observed since the late 1970s: a steady decline of about 4% per decade in the total volume of ozone in Earth'sstratosphere (the ozone layer), and a much larger springtime decrease in stratospheric ozone over Earth's polar regions. The latter phenomenon is referred to as the ozone hole. In addition to these well-known stratospheric phenomena, there are also springtime polar tropospheric ozone depletion events. The details of polar ozone hole formation differ from that of mid-latitude thinning, but the most important process in both is catalytic destruction of ozone by atomic halogens. The main source of these halogen atoms in the stratosphere is photodissociation of man-made halocarbon refrigerants (CFCs, freons, halons). These compounds are transported into the stratosphere after being emitted at the surface. Both types of ozone depletion were observed to increase as emissions of halo-carbons increased. CFCs and other contributory substances are referred to as ozone-depleting substances (ODS). Since the ozone layer prevents most harmful UVB wavelengths (280–315 nm) ofultraviolet light (UV light) from passing through the Earth's atmosphere, observed and projected decreases in ozone have generated worldwide concern leading to adoption of theMontreal Protocol that bans the production of CFCs, halons, and other ozone-depleting chemicals such as carbon tetrachloride and trichloroethane. It is suspected that a variety of biological consequences such as increases in skin cancer, cataracts, damage to plants, and reduction of plankton populations in the ocean's photic zone may result from the increased UV exposure due to ozone depletion.
Ozone cycle overview
Three forms (or allotropes) of oxygen are involved in the ozone-oxygen cycle: oxygen atoms (O or atomic oxygen), oxygen gas (O 2 or diatomic oxygen), and ozone gas (O
3 or triatomic oxygen). Ozone is formed in the stratosphere when oxygen molecules photodissociate after absorbing an ultraviolet photon whose wavelength is shorter than 240 nm. This converts a singleO 2 into two atomic oxygen radicals. The atomic oxygen radicals then combine with separate O 2 molecules to create two O
3 molecules. These ozone molecules absorb UV light between 310 and 200 nm, following which ozone splits into a molecule of O 2 and an oxygen atom. The oxygen atom then joins up with an oxygen molecule to regenerate ozone. This is a continuing process that terminates when an oxygen atom "recombines" with an ozone molecule to make two O 2 molecules.
3 → 3 O
2 chemical equation
The overall amount of ozone in the stratosphere is determined by a balance between photochemical production and recombination. Ozone can be destroyed by a number of free radical catalysts, the most important of which are the hydroxyl radical (OH·), the nitric oxide radical (NO·), atomic chlorine ion (Cl·) and atomicbromine ion (Br·). The dot is a common notation to indicate that all of these species have an unpaired electron and are thus extremely reactive. All of these have both natural and man-made sources; at the present time, most of the OH· and NO· in the stratosphere is of natural origin, but human activity has dramatically increased the levels of chlorine and bromine. These elements are found in certain stable organic compounds, especially chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which may find their way to the stratosphere without being destroyed in the troposphere due to their low reactivity. Once in the stratosphere, the Cl and Br atoms are liberated from the parent compounds by the action of ultraviolet light, e.g. CFCl
3 + electromagnetic radiation → CFCl
2 + Cl
The Cl and Br atoms can then destroy ozone molecules through a variety of catalytic cycles. In the simplest example of such a cycle, a chlorine atom reacts with an ozone molecule, taking an oxygen atom with it (forming ClO) and leaving a normal oxygen molecule. The...