One of Earth’s most important cooling mechanisms may be much more susceptible to changes in upper and lower ozone levels than previously thought.
New research by the University of Reading could change previous agreements on the significance of ozone as a greenhouse gas due to its overwhelming impact on one of the planet’s most vulnerable regions to climate change.
Most of the deep, rapid warming of the Southern Ocean off the coast of Antarctica is now thought to be due to the level of ozone in the upper and lower atmosphere, hindering and reducing the effectiveness of one of the Earth’s major defence mechanisms against excess heat, a vital process as the planet continues to get warmer. This adds to the existing concerns surrounding ozone and its toxicity as a form of pollution.
‘Ozone close to Earth’s surface is harmful to people and the environment, but this study reveals it also has a big impact on the ocean’s ability to absorb excess heat from the atmosphere,’ said study co-author Dr Michaela Hegglin, Associate Professor in atmospheric chemistry. ‘These findings are an eye-opener and hammer home the importance of regulating air pollution to prevent increased ozone levels and global temperatures rising further still.
‘We have known for a while that ozone depletion high in the atmosphere has affected surface climate in the Southern Hemisphere. Our research has shown that ozone increases in the lower atmosphere due to air pollution, which occurs primarily in the Northern Hemisphere and ‘leaks’ into the Southern Hemisphere, is a serious problem as well,’ she added. ‘There is hope to find solutions, and the success of the Montreal Protocol at cutting CFC use shows that international action is possible to prevent damage to the planet.’
In related news, glaciers in West Antarctica are believed to be melting at an accelerated rate.
Image credit: 66 North