Common Dreams staff, July 26, 2012
Extreme summer thunderstorms are likely causing accelerated damage to the ozone layer over the United States, as the frequency and strength of storms continue to increase, according to a study released Thursday by the journal Science at Harvard University.
Scientists have previously known that strong storms pose a threat to the ozone layer, due to an effect known as water-vapor injections which project H2O high into the stratosphere where it doesn’t belong; however, recent studies of storms have revealed that such ‘injections’ are reaching far higher and at greater capacity than thought possible, and are likely providing conditions for ‘rapid ozone destruction.’
“…the rates of those reactions are governed mainly by temperature and the presence of water vapor. If, as expected, storm activity increases owing to global warming, the proportion of water in the stratosphere will increase, leading to accelerating destruction of stratospheric ozone — and an increase in the amount of ultraviolet radiation reaching Earth,” writes Nature news.
James G. Anderson, an atmospheric scientist at Harvard and the lead author of the study, said the findings were enough to cause alarm — considering the increasing rate of extreme storms tied to climate change.
“We were shocked,” says Anderson. “Standard, run-of-the-mill Midwestern thunderstorms are far more capable of injecting water vapour into the stratosphere than we once thought.”
“This problem now is of deep concern to me,” Anderson stated. “I never would have suspected this.”
“It’s the union between ozone loss and climate change that is really at the heart of this,” he said. The two are now “intimately connected.”
The study also raises questions about geoengineering — the concept of manipulating the environment to mitigate climate change. One method of geoengineering currently being considered would involve pumping sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight back into space and cool the planet. But sulphate particles also act as catalysts for ozone-destroying reactions, so such a scheme could speed the reactions. “The worst cocktail you can think of is to inject a combination of sulphur and water into the stratosphere, and that is exactly what would be happening,” says Anderson. “Nature would be injecting the water, and humans would be injecting the sulphates.”