The hole in the ozone layer B: The players
"The hole in the ozone layer" sounds like a title of a "B Grade" horror movie, conjuring up all sorts of misconceptions. It is not a hole in the atmosphere, but a depletion of ozone above the polar regions which occurs in the spring and summer months.
Not to be confused with "The greenhouse effect", ozone depletion seems to be a relatively new phenomenon, with scientists first suspecting there was a problem in the late 1970s. It was not until 1985 that British scientists discovered the first "hole" over Antarctica.
The hole in the ozone layer A: What is it? investigates how the "hole" forms and what is being done to halt its growth. The second part of this topic will look at the players in the formation of the "hole"; ozone, chlorofluorocarbons and ultraviolet light. T
The high intensity of ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the Sun striking the upper atmosphere ensures that ozone is readily generated in the Earth's upper atmosphere. Unfortunately, ozone is not very stable and can be destroyed by more ultraviolet radiation or contact with other chemicals, especially chlorine atoms.
Ozone can exist fleetingly in the lower atmosphere, soon reacting with other chemicals. Ozone is also created by lightning and electrical discharges and is the odour that can be smelt near arc welding and older photocopying machines.
CFCs: the ozone destroyers
Because CFCs do not degrade and break down in the atmosphere, they simply accumulated until they reach the upper atmosphere (this can take years and even decades for some of the heavier CFCs). At this point they turn from "Dr Jekyll" to "Mr Hyde". CFCs break apart when struck by ultraviolet light forming different bits of molecules and chlorine atoms. It is these free chlorine atoms, known as radicals, which are so dangerous to the ozone layer.