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Ozone Depletion

The depletion of the ozone layer. Photo by Nasa Goddard.


Ozone layer depletion and the greenhouse effect are both phenomena taking place in the atmosphere
but the mechanisms, chemistry and physics behind them are very different. Not only that, contrary to
popular belief, they are neither connected nor influenced by one another.
Ozone Layer Depletion
Ozone (O
3)
is a form of oxygen much less stable and common than the standard form of oxygen, O
2
.
Some important facts about ozone:
Ozone is present in the upper layers of the atmosphere, in the stratosphere (between 15 and 50
km above the Earths surface).
O3 is not stable, but is very reactive ozone can be very dangerous to human health.
Ozones presence in the lower atmosphere (i.e. the air we breath) has negative effects, but its
presence in the upper atmosphere is crucial to our health.
Ozone reacts with ultraviolet radiation and in this way, stops the radiation from reaching the
surface of the earth.
Ultraviolet radiation is very dangerous for humans. It interacts with the cells of the body by
damaging them and/or causing cell mutation. Ozone in the upper atmosphere helps to reduce the
effect of ultra-violet radiation.
Ozone Depletion
Todays problems stem from the reduction of the amount of the ozone present in the stratosphere, a
phenomenon referred to as ozone depletion. For example, the ozone layer over the Antarctic becomes
very thin during springtime, resulting in the formation of an ozone hole. Its a phenomenon caused by
a group of gases called clorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
CFCs were used as refrigerants and propellants beginning in the 1950s because of their stability and
low boiling points, but they accumulated in the atmosphere. The reaction of these gases with the
ozone provoked a decrease in ozone concentration.
Several treaties and protocols were implemented (Montreal 1987, Copenhagen 1992, Vienna
1995) with a view to replacing CFCs with others and eventually ban them. Hydrofluorocarbons
(HFCs) are used today.

Greenhouse Effect and Greenhouse Gases


The suns radiation passes through the atmosphere to reach the Earth. Photo by Nasa Goddard.
Greenhouse Effect and Greenhouse Gases
The greenhouse effect is caused by the gases present in the atmosphere. Here is a step-by-step
description of what happens.
The energy from the sun passes through the atmosphere reaching the Earths surface.
Part of the energy is absorbed by the Earth, while the rest is reflected back.
Most of the reflected energy (93%) does not pass back through the atmosphere, but gets
trapped in it, because the sun and the earth emit energy as different forms of radiation.
The sun emits mainly visible and ultraviolet radiation, while the Earth emits mostly infrared. The
atmosphere is transparent to visible/ultraviolet radiation, but absorbs the infrared. Therefore, most of
the heat from the earth stays caught inside the atmosphere. The gases causing this phenomenon are
called greenhouse gases, mainly natural ones, water and CO
2
.
The greenhouse effect is essential for life on our planet. Earths surface temperature would be much
lower about -18
o
C instead of +15
o
C if the atmosphere didnt hold energy too cold for humans, as
well as many other animal species and vegetation.
There has been a lot of concern in recent years over the emission of other greenhouse gases, such as
methane, nitrous oxide and CFCs. Furthermore, there has been an increase in the concentration of
CO
2
, all due to human activity.
As a consequence of the increase in the greenhouse effect, more heat gets absorbed by the
atmosphere. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this may be the cause of
increases in the Earths temperature (global warming), although not everyone agrees with this theory.






CFCs were used for refrigeration. Photo by capl@washjeff.edu
Greenhouse Effect and Ozone Depletion: Almost Nothing in Common
CFCs are responsible for ozone layer depletion, as they react with ozone, and are also greenhouse
gases because they absorb the heat emitted from the earth. This responsibility is the only thing these
two issues have in common they are very different phenomena, based on different principles. Some
conclusive points to remember:
The greenhouse effect and ozone layer depletion are two independent phenomena. They do
not influence or affect one another.
Ozone layer depletion does not cause the greenhouse effect. It allows more ultraviolet energy
to reach the Earths surface, but it does not affect the absorption of heat inside the
atmosphere.
Ozone layer depletion cannot cause any increase in the Earths temperature.
CO2, which is the main greenhouse gas, whose concentration in the atmosphere is increasing
due to human activity, does not cause any depletion of the ozone layer.
As you can see, CFCs are the cause (or part of the cause) for both the global warming potentially
arising from an increase in the greenhouse effect and the depletion of the ozone layer but thats the
only thing the two phenomena have in common.