Causes of Ozone Layer Depletion

by Daniel Stouffer

The causes of ozone layer depletion are many. All of them are categorized as manmade compounds which enter the upper atmosphere and cause damage. They are chloroflurocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons, methyl bromide, halons, methyl chloroform and carbon tetrachloride. As these substances enter the stratosphere, they are present for up to 200 years.

Although there are numerous causes of ozone layer depletion, chloroflurocarbons have been identified as being the most damaging. These gases are used in many different industries in various ways. One example is the refrigerant gas used to run refrigeration and air-conditioning systems and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Chloroflurocarbons are also used in firefighting equipment, aerosols, the production of styrofoam and anesthetics.

Years of research have determined that chloroflurocarbons top the list of causes of ozone layer depletion because they are not destroyed by rain or broken down in the lower atmosphere. Once they reach the stratosphere, the sun’s ultraviolet rays break down the compound, thus releasing chlorine. This resulting chlorine is what damages the ozone in a repetitive process. In fact, one chlorine atom will continue to destroy the ozone for as long as two years.

The main causes of ozone layer depletion are the gases fluorine, chlorine and bromine, which are found in manmade halocarbons. Chlorine and bromine, in particular, have been identified as the major links to ozone depletion. Chlorine atoms result from chloroflurocarbons molecule, while bromine atoms result from halons. While chloroflurocarbons and halons are safe to use and cause no harm to the environment, they cause substantial damage to the stratosphere.

Free radicals, like hydroxyl, nitric oxide, atomic chlorine and bromine, are among the various causes of ozone layer depletion. While hydroxyl and nitric oxide are present in the stratosphere naturally, chlorine and bromine occur due to human use. As their levels of use increase, harm to the ozone increases.

The causes of ozone layer depletion trigger damage to the earth from the resulting high levels of ultraviolet rays or radiation exposure. Skin cancer will increase, the immune system in humans and animals will be weakened, plants will be damaged and plankton in oceans will be reduced. The entire balance of the earth’s life system will be impacted.

Since the causes of ozone layer depletion were identified, solutions were put into place to reduce or eliminate their usage. The U.S. Clean Air Act and the Montreal Protocols address the problem internationally. The goal of these treaties is to stop the damage to the ozone layer by phasing out known contributors. With these actions, it will still take at least a century before the harmful substances are completely eliminated from the stratosphere. Once that happens, the ozone layer is capable of recovering, returning to its normal state in about 100 years.

A weakening of the stratospheric ozone was initially identified in 1974. By not addressing the causes of ozone layer depletion now, global warming is evident. As global warming begins, the temperature of the earth gets hotter, causing ice caps and glaciers to melt. Weather events, like droughts and hurricanes would become more severe. As the ozone layer significantly disappears, the earth would come in direct contact with the sun’s heat and its damaging ultraviolet rays.

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