Monitoring of Antarctic ozone hole by Global Ozone Monitoring Instrument since 1995
September 16 is declared as the International Ozone Day (International Day for the Preservation of Ozone layer) by the United Nations and is celebrated across the planet as a day for generating awareness on the delicate ozone layer that surrounds the Earth and protects us from harmful solar radiations.
Ozone, a triatomic molecule consisting of three Oxygen molecules is a pollutant in the lower atmosphere (“bad ozone”) and poses health and environmental risks. However, ozone in the upper atmosphere is critical to our existence (“good ozone”) as it prevents potentially damaging electromagnetic radiation from reaching the Earth’s surface.
The standard way to express total ozone levels (the amount of ozone in a vertical column) in the atmosphere is by using Dobson units. It may be noted that excess ozone in the lower atmosphere is a result of anthropogenic pollution (in addition to volcanic activity) which leads to its formation through a series of reactions. Ozone in the upper atmosphere is naturally occurring.
While the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere is a essential to life on the planet, the discovery of a spring-time depletion of ozone layer above Antarctica in 1985 demonstrated the vulnerability of the ozone layer to human actions. Further investigation found that the ozone layer was being destroyed because of the release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), mostly in the northern hemisphere.
The CFCs once released from anthropogenic processes, spread throughout the world and diffused into the upper atmosphere, where they are broke down to release chlorine. This chlorine was able to take part in complex catalytic chemical reactions which was destroying ozone leading to the creation of the ozone hole. Once the science was clear, nations around the world began taking measures to phase out the use and release of CFCs.
Consequently, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was agreed on 16 September 1987 and entered into force on 1 January 1989. On 16 September, 2009, it became one of the first treaties to be universally ratified by all nations on the face of the planet.
A gradual phasing out of the use and release of CFCs has prove to benefit the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere which is now said to be stabilizing. In more than 24 years of its successful implementation, the Protocol has been gradually strengthened to cover the phase-out of nearly 100 ozone-depleting substances (ODS).
The latest adjustments were adopted in 2007 to accelerate the phase-out of hydrochlorofluorocarbons, or HCFCs. HCFCs are both ODS as well as powerful greenhouse gases (GHG): the most commonly used HCFC is nearly 2,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide in adding to global warming.
The theme for International Ozone Day this year, as declared by the United Nations, is therefore “HCFC Phase Out: A Unique Opportunity.” According to the UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki-Moon, the HCFC phase-out presents countries and industries with a unique opportunity to acquire cutting-edge technologies that not only eliminate ozone-depleting compounds but do so in a way that lowers energy costs and maximizes climate benefits.
He further added that to facilitate this transition in developing countries, the Montreal Protocol’s Financial Mechanism is providing increased funding. It is therefore an opportunity for Parties to the UN protocols and industries in general today, to seize this opportunity provided by the HCFC phase-out and to leapfrog hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) wherever possible.
The Day is being marked by the Department of Environment (DoE), Government of NCT of Delhi by hosting a seminar and quiz in the Auditorium of Delhi Secretariat on ozone with Chief Minister Sheila Dixit as the Chief Guest. The Ozone Cell of the Central Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) will be marking the day by reiterating India’s commitment to the protection of the ozone layer.
In a function organised at The Stein Auditorium in India Habitat Center, New Delhi with Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan as the Chief Guest, the MoEF will be distributing prizes and awards to the winners of competitions organised for promoting ozone layer protection in schools.
The first step in reducing ozone pollution in the lower atmosphere and reducing the use and emission of pollutants that deplete the ozone in the upper atmosphere is definitely to generate awareness on the subject among general public, governments and policy makers. That is the underlying objective behind celebrating the International Ozone Day and the participation of almost all nations in doing so is definitely a healthy sign for protecting life, as we know it, on the planet.
What can you do?
Ozone pollution in the troposphere and its destruction in the stratosphere and all other air pollution is mainly the result of human activities. The small things you do every day can help reduce air pollution and hence improve the protection of the environment as well as human health. Emissions from automobiles is one of the main contributor of this in an urban setting like that of Delhi.
- Replacing a car ride for closer distances by walking or using the bicycle not only helps reduce traffic but also emissions
- A good solution for longer journeys within the city is definitely public transport or carpool
- Use the buses, auto rickshaws and the Delhi Metro. If you think the latter is getting too crowded for it is, demand better management and then begin using it
- Don’t leave your electronic devices – TV sets, computers, DVDs on stand-by mode. Switch them off completely and you will save about 10 % of your electricity bill. Less electricity consumed means less power produced and fewer pollutants into the air from burning of fossil fuels