Magazine article Science News

Antarctic Ozone: The Plot Thickens

Magazine article Science News

Antarctic Ozone: The Plot Thickens

Article excerpt

Antarctic ozone: The plot thickens

As scientists around the world struggleto determine the mechanism that creates the ozone hole in the stratosphere above Antarctica each year, one group says it has found important evidence that chlorine --a by-product of human use of chlorofluorocarbons--is partially responsible for these seasonal depletions of Antarctic ozone.

Researchers from the State Universityof New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook report measuring levels of chlorine monoxide that were 100 times the amount normally present in the Antarctic stratosphere. Chlorine monoxide figures prominently in many theories that blame chemical reactions for the decrease of ozone between 12 and 20 kilometers above the South Pole each Antarctic spring (SN: 3/1/86, p. 133). These results strongly confirm other reports of high chlorine monoxide levels and "show that chlorine chemistry is almost certainly involved in the Antarctic ozone depletion,' says SUNY researcher Philip M. Solomon. The group reported its findings in Baltimore this week at the American Geophysical Union's spring meeting.

The group, which compiled its data lastyear on the U.S. National Ozone Expedition (NOZE) at McMurdo Station in Antarctica (SN: 10/25/86, p.261), also announced finding surprisingly low levels of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere above Antarctica. Nitrous oxide was so scarce that for most of September and October of 1986 the researchers were unable to detect it in the polar stratosphere.

Scientists are unsure whether theselow levels are related to the ozone hole-- ozone depletions that begin each September when the sun reappears over the Antarctic. Since these are the first spring measurements of stratospheric nitrous oxide, it is possible that they represent a normal situation for Antarctica, says SUNY researcher Robert de Zafra.

Whether or not the levels are abnormal,they will certainly cause atmospheric scientists who are striving to develop accurate models of the Antarctic atmosphere to revise their thoughts, say SUNY researchers. …

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