Ever heard the saying “Two wrongs don’t make a right”? Well, according to environmental research and analysis, this saying may prove to be quite inappropriate for all in this day and age; all who live under the UV shelter of the ozone.

The ozone layer, as we know it, is an envelope of O3 blanketing the earth’s atmosphere…well, for the most part of it. The O3 molecules that compose the ozone are formed through the breakdown of O2 gas molecules by UV energy.

UV (Energy)+ O2 = O + O       O + O2 = O3 (Ozone)

O + O2 = O3 (Ozone)

The UV in this case is used for both the breakdown of the O2 gas molecules and the “joining” of the free O radical to another O2 “couple”. Exciting, isn’t it? And why we admire the ozone layer, because it uses approximately 99% of the one thing that we fear the most to rejuvenate itself-ultraviolet radiation. (It is actually a case of desperation more than it is of admiration – assuming you understand the untimely effects UV radiation has on all flesh and bone; skin cancer, cataracts, suppression of the immune system, premature ageing of the skin…I need not continue, you surely get the concept protrayed).

Ok! So where was I? Aha! The ozone layer. So our precious ozone has a hole in it. (I bet you’re feeling your skin roasting already). The good news is, the hole is above Antarctica and the ozone volume decline has been rated at 4% per decade which is pretty much manageable for the time being. The bad news is, if you live in Antarctica, you might want to get a second opinion on those warts and pinpoles developing on your skin. Now, the hole was discovered in the early 1970’s so we kainda have no clue to who or what pricked our bubble of safety, much less above the cold Antarctica continent.

Depletion of the ozone layer. Notice how 'the hole' (in red) is getting wider with time
Depletion of the ozone layer. Notice how ‘the hole’ (in red) is getting wider with time

Now, I would like to take this opportunity to remind all of you folks that the release of atomic halogens formed from the photo dissociation of man-made halocarbon refrigerants, solvents, propellants and foam-blowing agents, otherwise known as chloro-fluorocarbons, is so not cool! In short, if you acquire anything that needs recycling and safe disposal, do just that. Either recycle it or safely dispose it. And for the rest of you who own manufacturing and processing companies, would you please control your waste and gases. The hape behind gas (especially CFCs) control is simple to understand. When these atomic halogens are released to the atmosphere, they absorb UV energy and dissociate into free and highly unstable radicals.

CFCl3 + EM Radiation  (UV Energy)   =     CFCL2 + Cl (free and highly unstable radical)

The free radical snatches the extra oxygen atom from the ozone molecules and later loses it to another free oxygen atom to form common oxygen, creating a destructive cycle of ozone reduction to oxygen gas.

Cl +O3 = ClO + O2

ClO + O3 = Cl + 2O2

If you are panicking right now then you are on the right track. If you haven’t yet developed any emotion up to this point, then you need to re-evaluate your life. Trust me, it is very disappointing to know that it is entirely within our control to prevent the tipping off of the balance that exists between photochemical production and ozone recombination. We really need to clean up our mess.

Now, the issue of global warming (I should actually call it the 21st Century crisis) is pegged to this ozone thing, since the earth’s surface is receiving more UV energy than it should. In short, the bigger the hole, the more the UV energy we get and hence, the more the global warming. Remember, the hole is supposedly getting because of the industrial gases we keep choking into the air. With this scary story, scientists and environmentalists have gone about figuring how to patch up the ozone layer, or atleast stop the expansion of the hole in it. It was until the findings of a committee known as the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) that all seemed to go as planned. Their analysis revealed that “…stopping ozone depletion may actually increase global warming; speeding up sea level rise”. Huh! It couldn’t get any better.

Apparently, the hole in the ozone allowed extra radiation in the depleted ozone above Antarctica, creating wind patterns that cooled the eastern, more densely ice-covered section of the continent, partly protecting Antarctica ice from global warming. Therefore, hole- healing will shift wind patterns, fully subjecting the Antarctic ice to the effects of climate change (causing a rise in sea levels up to 4.6 feet greater than earlier predictions). Now, how is that for a dilemma! Do you now get my opening statement, that two wrongs could actually make a right? Tear down the ozone (wrong number one) and don’t patch it up (wrong number two).

And there you have it. Another one of the great mysteries that surround our complex planet. And by the way, did I mention that we are entirely not responsible for global warming? Confusing, huh! I sure will explain that some other time. Cheers!

Editors Note:

Karen is a 3rd year BSc Geology student at the University of Nairobi with a passion for finding out what all this anti gravity is all about. She owns a pet rock called Dave. You can find her on social media and talk about how awesome it is to have rocks as pets. Or to brainstorm on why there’s reverse gravity in Kya Mwilu, Machakos.



Karen Masila