NASA Study: First Direct Proof of Ozone Hole Recovery Due to Chemicals Ban

Measurements show that the decline in chlorine, resulting from an international ban on chlorine-containing manmade chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), has resulted in about 20 per cent less ozone depletion during the Antarctic winter than there was in 2005 — the first year that measurements of chlorine and ozone during the Antarctic winter were made by NASA’s Aura satellite.

The study has confirmed the phenomenon by mapping the chemical composition of the atmosphere. The study revealed that chlorine levels declined by 0.8% each year between 2005 and 2016 and speculates that it could be the effect of the worldwide ban on the use of CFC. Previous research had hinted at the decrease in the depletion of the ozone layer. Scientists believe that the ozone layer would fully recover by 2080.

A layer of ozone envelops the Earth and keeps damaging ultraviolet, or UV, radiation from reaching living things on the planet’s surface. The ozone layer exists mainly in the stratosphere, a layer of the atmosphere that reaches from 10 to 50 kilometres (about 6 to 30 miles) above the Earth’s surface.

The ozone hole is a region of depleted layers of ozone above the Antarctic region, whose creation is linked to increased cases of skin cancer.

Depletion of ozone is due to many factors, the most dominant of which is the release of chlorine from CFCs (Chlorofluorocarbons) which destroys the ozone. CFCs are released by products such as hairsprays, old refrigerators etc.

Chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, are compounds made up of combinations of the elements chlorine, fluorine and carbon; aerosols, refrigerants and foams contain CFCs. When these CFCs enter the air, they rise up into the atmosphere to meet up with and destroy ozone molecules. First used in 1928, CFCs have since become more common as various other CFC compounds were created. Some of the better-known CFCs are the Freon compounds, which were used as cooling ingredients in refrigerators and air conditioners. CFCs have lifetimes from 50 to 100 years.

Once in the atmosphere, CFCs drift slowly upward to the stratosphere, where they are broken up by ultraviolet radiation, releasing the chlorine that catalytically destroys ozone. The process is as follows:

UV radiation breaks off a chlorine atom from a CFC molecule.

The chlorine atom attacks an ozone molecule (O3), breaking it apart and destroying the ozone.

The result is an ordinary oxygen molecule (O2) and a chlorine monoxide molecule (ClO).

The chlorine monoxide molecule (ClO) is attacked by a free oxygen atom releasing the chlorine atom and forming an ordinary oxygen molecule (O2).

The chlorine atom is now free to attack and destroy another ozone molecule (O3). One chlorine atom can repeat this destructive cycle thousands of times.

Applications of CFCs:

CFCs have some interesting properties which can be fully exploited; therefore there are plenty of uses for these molecules. CFCs are not flammable; therefore they were used as propellants that would push other molecules out of the aerosol sprays. For the same reason, CFCs were used to form foamed plastics. Also, low flammability enabled people to use these molecules to dry clean hot electronic components of devices such as air conditioning.

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