Now banned under the Montreal Protocol, CFCs were once widely used in aerosol cans and refrigerators – and have not vanished from the air. CFCs themselves are inert, but ultraviolet radiation high in the atmosphere breaks them down into their constituent parts, which can be highly reactive with ozone.
As the polar spring arrives, sunlight returns and creates chemical reactions in PSCs responsible for converting benign forms of chlorine into highly ozone-reactive radicals that spur ozone depletion. A single molecule of chlorine has the potential to break down thousands of molecules of ozone.
NAT PSCs enhance the potential for chlorine activation and can also sediment and irreversibly remove nitrogen from the lower stratosphere, causing a process known as denitrification, which slows the return of chlorine to its inactive form and allows for ozone destruction to continue.
H?pfner and fellow scientists were able to explain the sudden NAT formation of PSCs in 2003 by temperature disturbances in waves over the Antarctic Peninsula and the Ellsworth Mountains, suggesting a more significant role for mountain waves in the formation of Antarctic’s PSCs than previously thought.
According to H?pfner, the presence of PSCs could intensify in the future due to a globally changing climate where the Earth’s surface gets warmer due to trapped greenhouse gases but the stratosphere gets colder, providing an environment in which the clouds can form. An increase in PSCs could counteract the recovery of the ozone layer.
Although scientific efforts have focused on determining PSC composition and their formation mechanisms, the process causing the ozone depletion is far from understood. In order to gain a better understanding of ozone depletion, scientists must continue obtaining data, which allows them to measure the key species involved in the process.
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