Ozone is a very small part of our atmosphere, but its presence is nevertheless vital to human well-being.
Most ozone resides in the upper part of the atmosphere. This region, called the stratosphere, is more than 10 kilometers (6 miles) above Earth's surface. There, about 90% of atmospheric ozone is contained in the "ozone layer," which shields us from harmful ultraviolet light from the Sun.
However, it was discovered in the mid-1970s that some human-produced chemicals could destroy ozone and deplete the ozone layer. The resulting increase in ultraviolet radiation at Earth's surface can increase the incidences of skin cancer and eye cataracts.
Following the discovery of this environmental issue, researchers focused on a better understanding of this threat to the ozone layer. Monitoring stations showed that the abundances of the ozone-depleting chemicals were steadily increasing in the atmosphere. These trends were linked to growing production and use of chemicals like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) for refrigeration and air conditioning, foam blowing, and industrial cleaning. Measurements in the laboratory and the atmosphere characterized the chemical reactions that were involved in ozone destruction. Computer models employing this information could then predict how much ozone depletion was occurring and how much more could occur in the future.
Observations of the ozone layer itself showed that depletion was indeed occurring. The most severe and most surprising ozone loss was discovered to be over Antarctica. It is commonly called the "ozone hole" because the ozone depletion is so large and localized. A thinning of the ozone layer also has been observed over other regions of the globe, such as the Arctic and northern middle latitudes.
The work of many scientists throughout the world has provided a basis for building a broad and solid scientific understanding of the ozone depletion process. With this understanding, we know that ozone depletion is occurring and why. And, most important, it has become clear that, if ozone-depleting gases were to continue to accumulate in the atmosphere, the result would be more ozone layer depletion.
In response to the prospect of increasing ozone depletion, the governments of the world crafted the 1987 United Nations Montreal Protocol as a global means to address a global issue. As a result of the broad compliance with the Protocol and its Amendments and Adjustments and, importantly, the industrial development of more "ozonefriendly" substitutes for the now-controlled chemicals, the total global accumulation of ozone-depleting gases has slowed and begun to decrease. This has reduced the risk of further ozone depletion. Now, with continued compliance, we expect recovery of the ozone layer in the late 21st century. International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, 16 September, is now celebrated on the day the Montreal Protocol was agreed upon.
This is a story of notable achievements: discovery, understanding, decisions, and actions. It is a story written by many: scientists, technologists, economists, legal experts, and policymakers. And, dialogue has been a key ingredient.
To help foster a continued interaction, this component of the Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion: 2002 presents 20 questions and answers about the often complex science of ozone depletion. The questions address the nature of atmospheric ozone, the chemicals that cause ozone depletion, how global and polar ozone depletion occur, and what could lie ahead for the ozone layer. A brief answer to each question is first given in italics; an expanded answer then follows. The answers are based on the information presented in the 2002 and earlier Assessment reports. These reports and the answers provided here were all prepared and reviewed by a large international group of scientists1.
1. A draft of this component of the Assessment was reviewed and discussed by the 74 scientists who attended the Panel Review Meeting for the 2002 ozone assessment (Les Diablerets, Switzerland, 24-28 June 2002). In addition, subsequent contributions, reviews, or comments were provided by the following individuals: A.-L.N. Ajavon, D.L. Albritton, S.O. Andersen, P.J. Aucamp, G. Bernhard, M.P. Chipperfield, J.S. Daniel, S.B. Diaz, E.S. Dutton, C.A. Ennis, P.J. Fraser, R.-S. Gao, R.R. Garcia, M.A. Geller, S. Godin-Beekmann, M. Graber, J.B. Kerr, M.K.W. Ko, M.J. Kurylo, M. McFarland, G.L. Manney, K. Mauersberger, G. Mégie, S.A. Montzka, R. Müller, E.R. Nash, P.A. Newman, S.J. Oltmans, M. Oppenheimer, L.R. Poole, G. Poulet, M.H. Proffitt, W.J. Randel, A.R. Ravishankara, C.E. Reeves, R.J. Salawitch, M.L. Santee, G. Seckmeyer, D.J. Siedel, K.P. Shine, C.C. Sweet, A.F. Tuck, G.J.M. Velders, R.T. Watson, and R.J. Zander.
OZONE IN OUR ATMOSPHERE
THE OZONE DEPLETION PROCESS
STRATOSPHERIC OZONE DEPLETION
CONTROLLING OZONE-DEPLETING GASES
IMPLICATIONS OF OZONE DEPLETION
STRATOSPHERIC OZONE IN THE FUTURE