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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

A time bomb threatens the stability of the ozone layer

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According to a new study published in the scientific journal Nature, smoke from fires can seriously interfere with the process of rebuilding the ozone layer. It is a key part of the stratosphere that protects the Earth from dangerous radiation.

Scientists have been aware of the threats of the declining ozone layer for years. Efforts to protect our “sun visor” have been ongoing since 1987, when an agreement was issued banning the use of synthetic substances called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Thanks to the agreement, it seemed that the crisis related to the growing ozone hole over Antarctica had been brought under control. This was evidenced by research conducted four years ago, which showed that the vulnerability had reached its smallest size since it was discovered. It turns out, however, that the crisis has not been entirely averted.

Alert for scientists

In the following years, the hole over Antarctica began to grow again. According to scientists, the deterioration of the ozone layer began a year after the devastating wildfires that devastated millions of hectares of land in Australia and released huge amounts of smoke into the atmosphere.

Fires in Australia – archive photos from 2020PAP/EPA/DAVID MARIUZ

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The latest analysis, published in the scientific journal Nature, confirmed the hypotheses put forward at the time. It turns out that smoke particles can affect the state of the ozone layer for many months after the occurrence of fires. Worse, they can become even more destructive over time.

– The Australian fires have been a wake-up call to the scientific community. Previously, their impact had not been factored into ozone recovery predictions, noted climatologist Susan Solomon of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who has been studying ozone depletion for decades.

Fires in Australia – archive photos from 2020PAP/EPA/SEAN DAVEY

Domino effect

Scientists are still looking for an answer to the question of exactly how smoke from fires destroys ozone. Solomon is very determined to find out. In the early 2000s, she was one of the main scientists who proved the harmfulness of CFCs. Research she conducted with a group of other scientists showed that smoke from fires lowers nitrogen dioxide levels in the stratosphere.

“When there is less nitrogen dioxide, there is more chlorine monoxide, and that causes ozone depletion,” she explained. This process does not explain all the changes that have occurred in the stratosphere. So her team looked at chemical reactions using satellite data and tracking how conditions in the stratosphere over Antarctica changed months after the fires in Australia.

At the beginning, a decrease in the concentration of hydrochloric acid (HCl) in the atmosphere was observed, and only then an increase in the concentration of chlorine monoxide. So it was recognized that the decomposition of HCl is the first point in the process of ozone layer destruction. Simulations showed that the presence of smoke from the fires gradually fueled the process.

– This [wynik] aging smoke particles that really take away a lot of HCl, Solomon said.

Fires in Australia – archive photos from 2020PAP/EPA/SEAN DAVEY

In the era of accelerating climate change, these analyzes do not inspire optimism. If such destructive fires become more frequent, the ozone layer will recover more slowly or even deteriorate. This means that more solar radiation will begin to reach the Earth, and this will only drive climate change and, consequently, threaten life on Earth. Therefore, as the researchers appeal, keeping the ozone layer in good condition should not be a “short-term project”.

Main photo source: PAP/EPA/DAVID MARIUZ

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