Storms Threaten Ozone Layer Over U.S., Study Says
By HENRY FOUNTAIN
Published: July 26, 2012
Strong summer thunderstorms that pump water high into the upper atmosphere pose a threat to the protective ozone layer over the United States, researchers said on Thursday, drawing one of the first links between climate change and ozone loss over populated areas.
In a study published online by the journal Science, Harvard University scientists reported that some storms send water vapor miles into the stratosphere – which is normally drier than a desert – and showed how such events could rapidly set off ozone-destroying reactions with chemicals that remain in the atmosphere from CFCs, refrigerant gases that are now banned.
The risk of ozone damage, scientists said, could increase if global warming leads to more such storms.
“It’s the union between ozone loss and climate change that is really at the heart of this,” said James G. Anderson, an atmospheric scientist and the lead author of the study.
For years, Dr. Anderson said, he and other atmospheric scientists were careful to keep the two concepts separate. “Now, they’re intimately connected,” he said.
Ozone helps shield people, animals and crops from damaging ultraviolet rays from the sun. Much of the concern about the ozone layer has focused on Antarctica, where a seasonal hole, or thinning, has been seen for two decades, and the Arctic, where a hole was observed last year. But those regions have almost no population.
A thinning of the ozone layer over the United States during summers could mean an increase in ultraviolet exposure for millions of people and a rise in the incidence of skin cancer, the researchers said.
The findings were based on sound science, Dr. Anderson and other experts said, but much more research is needed, including direct measurements in the stratosphere in areas where water vapor was present after storms.
“This problem now is of deep concern to me,” Dr. Anderson said. “I never would have suspected this.”
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