What Depletes the Ozone
While the ozone layer is a blanket of good gases in the stratosphere, there is also man-made bad ozone depleting substances (ODS) that can destroy the good natural ozone. These ODS substances, like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), are often found in vehicle emissions, industrial processes, refrigerants, and aerosols. Once reaching the stratosphere, these substances actually get broken down by the UV rays of the sun, destroying the good ozone. Repercussions of some chemicals, such as CFCs, will be felt long after their use ceases as they can remain in the atmosphere for nearly 100 years after release.
So what happens when the ozone layer gets depleted?
Immediate Negative Effects… Human Health
Breathing in bad ozone can create adverse health effects. The chemicals can make it difficult to breathe, create chest pain, irritate the throat, and reduce functioning of the lungs.
When the protective layer’s UV radiation-absorbing capabilities are reduced, exposure of UV rays increases, particularly UVB, with known damaging health effects on humans. The most common of the effects are skin reddening, sunburn, and even skin cancer. Other effects of UV rays include cataracts and impairment of the immune system.
Next Stage… Greenhouse Gases
The Earth normally maintains a natural balance between energy coming in from the sun and going out from the earth’s surface. Emitting harmful chemicals into the environment adds gases, or greenhouse gases, in the atmosphere. This increased greenhouse effect changes the atmosphere’s natural composition and directly affects the climate.
As the greenhouse gases build in the atmosphere, they trap heat that would naturally escape from the lower atmosphere (troposphere) and enter into the upper atmosphere (stratosphere). These gases can stay for years in the earth’s atmosphere. As time goes by, more and more ozone gases are emitted in the atmosphere, and more heat is also retained by gas blanket. These gases also absorb and re-emit the naturally occurring outgoing energy thus creating an imbalance in the global energy flow. The result is an imbalance of a warmer surface temperature and a cooler upper atmosphere temperature.
Which Leads to… Climate Change
The cooling of the stratosphere creates unstable ozone molecules, reducing their ability to repair the ozone layer and therefore accelerating the depletion of the ozone. As more and more greenhouse gases are trapped at the surface of the atmosphere, the depletion rate of “good” ozone increases.
The warming of the troposphere creates a possible acceleration of arctic ice cap melting leaving a negative outcome on the affected ecosystem.
And Finally… Global Warming
In 2000, more than 300 NASA scientists published a report directly correlating global warming with the cooling stratosphere and the depletion of the ozone. Global warming does not necessarily mean only warmer temperatures. The stratosphere is sensitive to temperature and the atmosphere tends to migrate due to variations. Areas with an active stratosphere will experience warmer temperatures as areas with an inactive stratosphere will be cooler. The US could experience an extremely cold winter when other parts of the world are experiencing abnormally hot temperatures. The world on a whole, US being only 2%, has experienced nine of the hottest years ever in just the last ten years.
The EPA is working to reduce bad ozone and improve air quality. On the city, state and national level, programs have been implemented to meet health standards and reduce toxic emissions from motor vehicles and industrial facilities. Reformulations and substitutes are also being developed to create safer and healthier products since an improvement on all fronts can create a greater good.
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