As the world marks 20 years since the introduction of the Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer, Nature has learned of experimental data that threaten to shatter established theories of ozone chemistry. If the data are right, scientists will have to rethink their understanding of how ozone holes are formed and how that relates to climate change.
Markus Rex, an atmosphere scientist at the Alfred Wegener Institute of Polar and Marine Research in Potsdam, Germany, did a double-take when he saw new data for the break-down rate of a crucial molecule, dichlorine peroxide (Cl2O2). The rate of photolysis (light-activated splitting) of this molecule reported by chemists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California1, was extremely low in the wavelengths available in the stratosphere - almost an order of magnitude lower than the currently accepted rate.
“This must have far-reaching consequences,” Rex says. “If the measurements are correct we can basically no longer say we understand how ozone holes come into being.” What effect the results have on projections of the speed or extent of ozone depletion remains unclear.
Other groups have yet to confirm the new photolysis rate, but the conundrum is already causing much debate and uncertainty in the ozone research community. “Our understanding of chloride chemistry has really been blown apart,” says John Crowley, an ozone researcher at the Max Planck Institute of Chemistry in Mainz, Germany.
“Until recently everything looked like it fitted nicely,” agrees Neil Harris, an atmosphere scientist who heads the European Ozone Research Coordinating Unit at the University of Cambridge, UK. “Now suddenly it’s like a plank has been pulled out of a bridge.” Post is here.