A map of the ozone hole over the South Pole.
Source – Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service

New climate change research finds that ozone may be heating the planet more than we realize. Here, ozone in the atmosphere may have weakened one of Earth’s main cooling mechanisms.

The findings coming from the University of Reading in the U.K. and it connects ozone readings in the lower atmosphere to warming in the Southern Ocean. The significant since the ocean absorbs much of the planet’s excess heat and this can accelerate global heating.

Ozone affects climate change in two ways. Atmospheric ozone is important for protecting the planet from the Sun and it filters dangerous ultraviolet radiation from reaching Earth’s surface. This was the reason why holes in the ozone layer causes such concern during the 1980s and beyond.

However, ozone lower down and closer to the Earth’s surface can contribute to global heating.  This form of ozone is formed when heat and sunlight cause chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen and Volatile Organic Compounds.

Here ozone is the product of human activity as one of the main components of smog and as such it is a hazardous pollutant (when inhaled, ozone can damage the lungs, causing chest pains).

The ozone found close to Earth’s surface also has an impact on climate change given its ability to absorb excess heat from the atmosphere, thereby pushing up global temperatures. Hence, what the new research does is indicate the significant role of the gas in driving climate change.

In essence, the data shows how ozone is more than just a pollutant, but also may be playing a significant role in climate change. If current trends continue, the impact of ozone is likely to get worse over the next decade or so.

Specifically, increased ozone in the lower atmosphere caused 60 percent of the overall ozone-induced warming seen in the Southern Ocean over the period studied.

The research appears in the journal Nature Climate Change, titled “Stratospheric ozone depletion and tropospheric ozone increases drive Southern Ocean interior warming.”

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