ozone

You can go to any number of sites for an explanation of how ozone is produced in the atmosphere, but in summary, the most common method is that a ray (or is it a particle 🙂 of ultraviolet light strikes a molecule of Oxygen (O2) and splits it into single Oxygen atoms with one excited electron. This allows the single oxygen atom to combine with a pair of bonded oxygen atoms to form a threesome known as ozone (O3). Ozone molecules are capable of blocking ultraviolet light, so they are a useful barrier to protect life on the surface of the planet from too much ultraviolet light.

Now, in the industrialized world in which we live, some chlorine compounds are more common than they were, say 100 years ago. These chlorine compounds like to bind with those free oxygen atoms, which prevents them from forming ozone molecules.

Now here’s my question: What is it about this that is not self repairing? The amount of oxygen in the atmosphere is pretty constant. Thus, it seems that for a given amount of ultraviolet rays entering the stratosphere, a proportionate number of free oxygen atoms will be produced. If some of those free oxygen atoms are consumed by a different reaction (bound into a chlorine molecule, for example), then fewer ozone molecules will be produced. This will allow the ingress of a relatively larger number of ultraviolet rays. This, in turn, would suggest that *more* free oxygen atoms would be produced. More free oxygen atoms should mean that there would be enough for the O3 and the chlorine molecules to co-exist peacefully, I would think?

Am I correct? Obviously this is a simplistic view of the system, but am I missing an important piece of this puzzle? It sure seems like it would be a self-balancing system.

  1. I approve of your use of ‘ingress’.

    Chemistry is not my strong point. But I think you’d have to take into account several factors:

    1) You now have ClO (or whatever chlorine and oxygen combine into, ClO2?) bouncing around; UV rays are going to hit those–dunno what happens then, but if the chlorine-oxygen molecule *doesn’t* break down, there’s a problem. This consideration also reduces the number of UV rays to hit oxygen molecules.

    2) Chlorine normally occurs as Cl2, which means two free chlorine atoms bouncing around. So, at minimum, you’re not talking about one oxygen atom being taken away, but two–maybe more if it’s ClO2 or something which is made. I conjecture that reaction can take place faster than the production of ozone. That, in turn, needs to be factored into what the UV rays can hit (see part 1 above).

    I am talking out of my rear end on this post. There probably is a stable configuration of the system, as you suggest, but are we anywhere near the stable configuration? Dunno.

  2. well, for whatever reason, I suspect that the chlorine molecule doesn’t block UV. Or, rather, I assume it doesn’t because if it did, then there would be no problem, per se, with ozone depleting substances.

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