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The Ozone Made Simple

Updated on May 8, 2011

What is Ozone?

Christian Friedrick Schonbein, a German chemist, discovered ozone in 1840. He discovered that ozone is composed of three oxygen molecules, unlike most forms of oxygen with only two molecules.

The majority of the Earth's ozone is in the stratosphere.

Ozone is a major factor of what makes life on Earth possible, as it prevents ultra- violet rays from destroying the environment.

What Causes Ozone Depletion

When we, on Earth, use ozone depleting substances, we release chemicals into th atmosphere that slowly rise through the air.

When the chemical reach the upper atmosphere, the sun's ultra- violet rays break them up and degrade them, which releases chlorine or bromine atoms, which react with the ozone and start depleting it.

But, man- made objects are not the only factor in the depleting ozone. Some scientists have noticed seasonal depletion over Antarctica. They believe that the weather in Antarctica helps produce the chemicals that damage the ozone.

In the winter, the continent is very dark and cold with swirling winds that tend to stop the normal air circulation, but in the spring, the sunlight increases, triggering chemical reactions that are thought to deplete the ozone.

Types of Ozone Depleting Substances


Aerosols are the small suspended particles within a gas. As arorsols are often liquid particles, when they reach the stratosphere, they start crystallizing and forming groups with water molecules and a sulfate or nitrate molecules.

Chlorofluorcarbon (CFC)

CFC's are a compound that consists of chlorine, flourine, and carbon. They tend to be pretty stable in the troposphere, but when the sun's ultra- violet rays hit them in the stratosphere, they release the chlorine atoms that then deplete the ozone.

You will commonly find CFC's in refrigerants, solvents, and foam blowing agents.

Once it was recognized that CFC's are one of the substances that deplete the ozone, the government banned the us of them in aerosol cans in 1978, but it wasn't until 1995, that the United States banned use of CFC's in refrigerants and insulation.


Halons are compounds of bromine, flourine, and carbon, that are commonly used in fire extinguishers.

Because when in the stratosphere, bromine depletes the ozone faster than chlorine, the United States banned the use of halons in fire extinguishers and other products in 1993.

Depleting Ozone and Its Effects

Every year, scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) collects data on the ozone, looking for patterns and areas that are thinner than others.

As of 2000, there are areas of the lower atmosphere that are nearly empty of its ozone molecules.

The scientists tested this by flying an aircraft over the Hudson Bay, Baffin Bay, and the Arctic Ocean. The aircraft made seven trips during the spring of 2000 that, altogether, traveled through Colorado, Manitoba, Winnepeg, Greenland, and Canada. During the trips, the aircraft would rise and fall collecting data at different levels of the atmosphere to test where the ozone was missing or thinning.

The scientists located thinning areas in 8 of the 32, low- altitude flights.

Effects of Ozone Depletion

  • Basal and Squamous Cell Carcinomas
  • Malignant Melanoma
  • Cortical Cataracts
  • Increased Tropospheric Ozone- health risk to humans, plants, and animals because ozone is toxic and at a tropospheric level, life on Earth is in contact with it.
  • Reduced cyanobacteria in the roots of some plants, which would cause them to retain nitrogen because of increased UV rays.

Future Outlook

Scientists say that although the ozone is somewhat stabilizing, it may only be a temporary change. Because there has been so much depletion already, it is not conclusive whether or not the current state will remain.

It is thought that because the sun makes an 11- year period of declining radiation, in year 2006, we experienced the least amount of ozone protection.

They feel that winters will begin to return back to its more cooler weather, which will cause the Arctic ozone levels to fall faster. With the warmer temperatures in the atmosphere, the stratosphere will have cooler temperatures, meaning that it will deplete faster.

Do you think that the ozone will stabilize or continue to deplete? How about your opinions towards whether the depletion is man- made, environment, or a little of both?


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    • profile image

      American Tiger 

      10 years ago

      I know it doesn't make me popular, but flat-earth level, non-informed, backwards blanket statements like "Ozone is a major factor of what makes life on Earth possible, as it prevents ultra-violet rays from destroying the environment." make my head spin, and cause me to question people's sanity. Copernicus and Pythagoras were scorned when they said the Earth wasn't flat, so I try to deal with the general populace's ignorance with the patience those men showed.

      Whitney, have you taken the time to discover how stratospheric ozone is formed? UV strikes O2 in the troposphere, where the O2 ABSORBS THE UV ENERGY AND BREAKS INTO IONS. Those little O molecules bond to other O2 molecules to form O3, AFTER THE UV HAS BEEN BLOCKED.

      The ozone layer is WHERE the UV gets blocked, and is a simple resultant effect of all that blockage. Even if ozone were NOT the result of UV hitting O2, the UV would still get blocked.

      Ozone depletion is an utter non-issue. O3 is being created constantly, and will be forever. Or, at least until we run out of sunlight or oxygen. Also; CFCs are primarily created (released) by white-capping ocean waves. To the 99.99th percentile. Man couldn't keep up with that kind of production if our very existence depended on it.

      You're smart people and a good writer, and I'm in no way trying to knock you personally. I just hate seeing populist non-science continually repeated as Dogma.

    • tom hellert profile image

      tom hellert 

      10 years ago from home

      Nice job good facts not preachy ya boiled the sauce down to paste and it still tasted good

    • 4FoodSafety profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      10 years ago from Fontana, WI

      You took a very complicated subject and made it enjoyable and useful too! Excellent Hub! As I write on Atmospheric Ozone - I will be sure to link back to your Hub. Fantastic job!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish MS 

      12 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Spray cans' sprays make my throat hurt as well! Good Hub!

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Marshall 

      12 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Whitney - well done! This is such a complex subject and the combination of man-made and natural factors makes it difficult to unravel. Still, there is much that we can do to stop the ozone depletion.


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