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Wouldn’t it be nice if we could harness all the ground level ozone, the gas emitted by automobiles and burning fossil fuels that causes smog and subsequent health problems, and release it into to the atmosphere to reverse ozone depletion? In theory, this is possible but the logistics of doing so are extremely complicated and would yield no significant results. It is possible however to reverse ozone depletion in other ways, but this involves the lifestyle and political changes of countries worldwide.
The ozone layer consists of molecules of three oxygen atoms that work to protect life on earth from the sun’s damaging ultra violet (UV) rays. UV rays are absorbed by ozone before they reach the troposphere; the lowest section of the earth’s atmosphere. The amount of normal ozone found in the stratosphere, a section of the atmosphere that sits just above the troposphere, is 1 million molecules of ozone per 10 million molecules of air.
Ozone depleting substances or ODS, is a general term for the various types of manmade chemicals that are responsible for ozone depletion. In fact, 85% of ozone depletion is the result of human activity where as only 15% is due to natural causes. ODS chemicals include chlorofluorocarbons or CFC’s, halons, methyl chloroform, carbon tetrachloride and methyl bromide.
These chemicals, all of which contain chlorine atoms, react with the ozone and break apart the three oxygen molecules that make up ozone. Just one chlorine atom is responsible for the destruction of over 100,000 molecules of ozone before the life of the chlorine atom has expired.
CFC’s are the major cause for ozone depletion. Many countries have agreed to reduce or prohibit the production of materials made of or by the use of CFC’s. This decision was the first major attempt to reverse ozone depletion, and was the result of the Montreal Protocol of 1987. The Montreal Protocol was an important step in raising awareness about the critical nature of ozone depletion and has begun to significantly reduce its destruction.
In the absence of harmful human activities, stratospheric ozone is naturally broken down and naturally replenished at an equal rate. The problem is that CFC’s and other harmful chemicals are released into the atmosphere faster than ozone is naturally formed, resulting in serious ozone depletion. In addition, the chemicals manufactured at the earth’s surface take about five to ten years before they reach and destroy the stratospheric ozone. As a result, despite efforts to halt ozone depletion it will get worse before it gets better.
A worldwide effort to stop the use of ozone depleting chemicals can reverse ozone depletion. If harmful chemicals are not manufactured, the natural ozone production process is expected to reverse the past damage that has been done to the ozone in approximately 50 years. However, we will not have this opportunity forever. At a certain point, the damage will be so severe that the effects of the sun’s ultra violet radiation will cause so much damage to people, animals and plants that we will experience serious secondary environmental problems.