Things That Can Destroy the Ozone Layer
We read about it in the newspapers. We see it on TV. We hear about the ozone layer and how it is being destroyed. But, by what, whom?
The ozone layer is a section of the Earth's atmosphere, between the trophosphere, the part closest to the Earth, and the stratosphere, the area where large jets travel. The boundary of these two is called the ozone layer. Ozone is a molecule similar to oxygen except it contains three molecules, parts, of oxygen, instead of only two, and, at one time , was known as "heavy oxygen". The ozone has a bluish coloration and a strong odor, similar to that found near where lightening as struck the Earth, and it is unstable. Ozone's main purpose is to protect us from the ultraviolet radiation, UVB primarily, from the sun from reaching the Earth and reeking havoc. Without the ozone layer, there would be an increase in skin cancer, an increase in cataracts in people's eyes, and an increase in crop damage.
Unfortunately, man, in his movement to make life better, has produced substances that have damaged the ozone layer. In the 1940s and 1950s, man developed chloroflurocarbons. Chloroflurocarbons are substances found in refrigerants, such as freon, carbontetrachloride, an industral chemical, the aerosol propellants used in hairspray, air fresheners, and in oven cleaners. Chloroflurocarbons are, also, found in the gases emitted from burning fossil fuels, like coal and oil, and in halons, which are used in fire extinguishing agents. When chloroflurocarbons were first made, it was not known that, due to their long half-life, they would be able, with the help of the wind, to reach the stratosphere and damage the ozone layer.
It has been found, the only way to cause the chloroflurocarbon molecule to break down is to expose it to strong ultraviolet (UV) radiation. But, there is a catch in this breakdown. During the process of breaking down the chloroflurocarbon into their atomic, or basic, parts atomic chlorine is produced, and, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), one atom of atomic chlorine has the ability to destroy approximately 100,000 molecules of ozone. Since 84 percent of the chlorine found in the stratosphere comes from chloroflurocarbons, the process of breaking down chloroflurocarbons causes the ozone layer to be destroyed, the EPA states.
In the early 1980s, there was an area over Antarctica, also known as the South Pole, that had a lower concentration of ozone than any other part of the atmosphere. But, according to the EPA, there are also areas of ozone depletion over North Ameerica, Europe, Asia, and Africa that can be as much as 5-10 percent lower than any other area of the atmosphere, depending on the season.
The EPA has been studying the depletion of the ozone layer for over 20 years. They have been instrumental in calling for the banning of chloroflurocarbons as aerosol propellants. In 1985, the Vienna Convention, along with the EPA recommendations, developed a formal international cooporation to decrease the use of chloroflurocarbons in an effort to decrease and stop further damage seen in the ozone layer. In 1987, the Montreal Protocol was signed by the countries of the world "to decrease the production of chloroflurocarbons by 1/2 by 1998", according to the EPA. By 1992, the Parties of the Protocol stated there was to be a complete stoppage of the production of halons by 1994 and the stoppage of chloroflurocarbon production by 1996. The EPA stated that, by their measurements, the highest levels of chlorine in the stratosphere were seen in the years 1997-1998, but with a continued decrease in the burning of fossil fuels, the ozone depletion can be healed by the natural production of ozone, by about 2048.
So, with the decreasing use of fossil fuels and the increased use of other forms of energy, like wind power and electricity, the ozone layer will continue to increase back to normal and again, be able to protect us from the damaging rays from the sun, as it has done for millions and millions of years.