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Stratospheric ozone depletion from eruption of large volcanoes in South America is likely, given their ability to release huge amounts of bromine –- an Ozone Depleting Substance, (ODS) — into the atmosphere. This awareness recently came from a study of chemicals released from 14 large volcanoes in Nicaragua over the past 70,000years.
The study is redolent of possibilities for ozone layer depletion due to large volcanoes. Ozone depletion upshot from chlorine released in a large volcano in 1991, is still a famous example, and with this possibility again, with bromine, puts ozone layer repair on the brink.
The ozone layer, a layer of gas, protecting us from harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiations from the sun, was majorly put at risk by human activities many years back, by use of gases that reduce ozone amounts once there. These gases, grouped as ODSs are being phased out for use globally, so that only the ones that have accumulated in the atmosphere over the years will remain until they vanish.
Ozone layer repair is sometimes considered as a settled matter, because of an agreement that saw the world unite to phase out ODSs. Volcanic eruptions however, still puts ozone layer within the limits of risk, because chlorine and bromine are in the ODS family.
The agreement that saw the world unite to phase out ODSs is a treaty called the Montreal Protocol, and the logic was simple. Stop the use of ODSs, expect those that have accumulated to live out their expected years, and wait a little more for total repair of the ozone layer — naturally.
The treaty is so far successful, with adjustments and amendments on occasions, after 1989, when it went into force. Ozone layer repair is appropriated for natural recovery, which is best, as there may never be an emergency requiring artificial repair.
Artificial touches to alter climate are generally termed climate engineering (or geoengineering). It is popularly suggested as remedy for global warming, seeing that a similar treaty, like the Montreal Protocol, is now difficult. Geoengineering is at an early stage, it is gradually prepared, but only the future knows if there will be any large scale deployment.
The ozone layer does not have geoengineering schemes compared with global warming, but there is a small research work, piercing a possibility. The ozone layer is known to protect us from harmful UV rays in reactions involving ozone, oxygen molecules, oxygen atom and UV light from the sun.
The process involves dissociation and combination of these molecules. Oxygen is a principal part of the process, and the chemistry of oxygen’s involvement makes artificial replacement of ozone molecules possible. Oxygen is important in the first dissociation and the following combination that form ozone. Oxygen is a ‘friendlier’ gas compared with ozone.
Oxygen is therefore preferred for this objective because production and storage of a large volume of ozone gas (unstable under normal atmospheric conditions) for transportation up high for discharge is practically impossible and financially guzzling.
Protection from harmful UV rays is a process where from oxygen ozone is formed, ozone formed to be later dissociated ‘possibly understands’ the dynamics of the process, freshly injected ozone molecules may not understand this on entry to the ozone layer and may falter by not protecting the earth or be lost after encountering ODSs.
Oxygen can be injected as a quick fix for a particular part — say the polar region — and stratospheric air movement will also relied on to bring ozone rich air to that part, from the tropics, making the replacement process brief and cheap. A large percentage of ozone is formed over the tropics where sunshine amount are greatest. It is transported by moving air towards the South Pole and North Pole.
Oxygen for this objective will be transported in liquid state, using an unmanned aircraft or a blimp, and discharged as gas under pressure to make it active for reaction on entry. The process is not a ‘risky’ geoengineering because lost ozone molecules are replaced with injected oxygen molecules within a containable range.
The procedure is not expensive, compared with the billion-dollar annual budget, projected for most global warming geoengineering schemes. Aircrafts to be used can be reused for other things and oxygen from industrial process for this will be produced at scale reducing cost.
These points and governance & policy matters are necessary but are sort of early for a research whose chemistry is being determined. It is known that there is a lot of oxygen in the atmosphere, about 1018kg and oxygen is the product of destruction reaction by halogens in the ozone depletion process, but ‘these oxygen molecules’ are not available for the reaction for ozone formation in the ozone layer.
Atmospheric oxygen amount in the stratosphere is fairly constant, with diminutive increase or decrease due to air motion. This shows that the amounts have been home with ozone depletion over the years, making artificial injection important to increasing oxygen amounts in the stratosphere. Oxygen molecules returned from halogen destruction of ozone are likely ‘weakened’ by the process becoming inutile for the UV protection process.
The exact chemistry of the oxygen molecules from halogen-destroyed-ozone is not clear, but the molecules appear to be unusable because there would have been ‘equilibrium’ in a depletion and utility process if these oxygen molecules were to return to UV protection reaction. Severe ozone depletion (around 100DU) would also never come if the equilibrium is.
The ozone layer geoengineering research is simple, inject oxygen to selected, depleted parts of the ozone layer to see an increase in ozone amounts over that part. The research will add more useable oxygen to the stratosphere for protection reactions and save the world if ever necessary, from harm.
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By David Stephen
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