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Memories of the 28th Century


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I recently learned that the old chestnut about a hole in the ozone layer over the South Polar Region is still believed by some people. Please rest assured that there is nothing to worry about. Yes, there is a hole every year, and there has been a hole every year for a very long time, but it has nothing to do with Freon or chloride ions.

Mechanics of the Ozone Process
In the atmosphere there is a continual process, or set of processes, that create then breakdown ozone molecules. Ultra-violet radiation splits O2 molecules, and some of the monatomic oxygen combines with O2 molecules; thus forming an ozone (O3) molecule. That molecule floats around until it is affected by more ultraviolet radiation and splits into O2 + O. Ozone is an unstable molecule, because there is an extra electron in the outermost part of the electrons, so it is subject to reactions with atoms and molecules that need an extra oxygen. In the absence of ultraviolet radiation ozone will breakdown as it reacts with other atoms.

Polar wind currents, North and South
The South Polar Region usually has a weather system that is largely isolated from the rest of the atmosphere. There is a large vortex that covers all of Antarctica and the surrounding ocean. The North Polar Region is different. In the North upper level currents are continuously bringing air from more Southerly regions into the Polar Region, and that air contains ozone, which is not formed in the polar region in winter, because no sunlight reaches, except at very high levels where the atmosphere is very thin. The Southern Polar Vortex also keeps warmer air from getting in, so the South Pole area is much colder than the North Pole.

CFC’s, etc.
The pop science explanation for the hole in the ozone layer was that CFC’s (chlorofluorocarbons) and similar substances were breaking down in the atmosphere and reacting with ozone. The evidence was shaky, at best, and CFC’s seldom get high in the atmosphere, because they are much heavier than other gases. More recently Marcus Rex of the Wegener Institute has further questioned the CFC process, see link below.

I was aware of the ozone process back in the early 1990’s, including the matter of how the South Polar Region has an isolated air mass, and it appeared that the popular news people had also figured out how it worked; although that wasn’t until after Congress passed that silly ban of Freon. In fact, both Freon and chlorine from the oceans seldom rise high into the atmosphere, because both are relatively heavy, so they are found at low altitudes. Marcus Rex’s research confirms that few compounds reach the upper atmosphere. His research is very interesting for several reasons.

Marcus Rex found atmospheric regions that have high levels of hydroxyl radicals (OH), and these wash compounds out by breaking molecular bonds. Hydroxyl would react with chlorine radicals, as well as with CFC's, such as Freon, and those reactions would keep those from reaching the stratospheric level where most of the ozone is, and the most reactive components of CFC's are the Chlorine (atomic weight 35) atoms, which are quite heavy and quickly fall of the surface and Flourine atoms which are lighter but still heavier than O2, and it usually forms a binary molecule, so this also falls to the surface.

The Montreal Protocol was supposed to eliminate the ozone hole, but after more than twenty years and some decrease in the amount of chlorine in the atmosphere there has been no appreciable reduction in the size of the Antarctic ozone hole (as we expected).

I have been trying to find data from before 1974 about the extent of the hole, but that seems to have been lost. There were readings of ozone densities from the 1950’s, and they showed levels that were similar to what exists now. Which is to say, that there is no evidence that the hole in the ozone layer was not there at some time in the past. There is a site on the history of the ozone hole, but it is far from complete.

Then there is this historic table of ozone densities at various latitudes. The data for the South Pole only goes back to 1964, but the data for the South Pole is in the same range for every year. And the range for all the stations isn’t very wide.
This table suggests that there never was a hole, and someone just exaggerated the fact that when no UV radiation interacts with oxygen ozone doesn’t form, and there is little or no UV during polar winters resulting in a lower density of ozone. It seems very smple now, but some peple had trouble understanding the logic.

I would like to find a detailed table of the changes in South Polar ozone levels since 1956, when the depletion was first noticed. From the partial data that I have found there has been no significant change in the “hole”, and there was no actual hole, only a region of lower levels of ozone. The attempts to create panic about this issue back in the 1990’s became silly. One item that I remember was a series of articles about sheep in Patagonia going blind from the increased UV radiation. There were a couple of problems with that: Ozone levels over Patagonia were not affected, and the sheep all had a disease that causes blindness.

The result of the ozone hole red herring was that Freon and some other CFC’s were banned, so the prices of refrigerators rose, and the secondary market for Freon boomed. I suppose that the conspiracy theorists would point out that that foolishness got people ready for worse things to come when fire will be banned.

If anyone finds a good description of the “progression” of the ozone hole over time, then please let me know. The best information that I have indicates that the hole has been there for a very long time, and it has not been much smaller or larger than the range of the last thirty years.

Sources and other sites

Brief explanation of how the hole develops

Traditional explanation of ozone process

Regarding Marcus Rex’ findings


Marcus Rex new data

Differences between North and South Polar Regions, scroll down to cold and polar vortex

Updated 07-22-2014 at 08:11 PM by PeterL