Head in the clouds: expanding the sky and thinning the ozone

I’ve reposted the following blog, originally written in April last year, because there is some new research indicating a link between climate change and the Ozone layer.

http://www.seas.harvard.edu/news-events/news-clips/unexpected-ozone-loss-observed-above-united-states

The concept of water vapor punching holes in the lower stratosphere (I.e. where water vapor usually doesn’t go) due to intense storms is similar to my idea that with the expansion of the troposphere, due to warming, the ozone will be stretched thinner. Basically, our atmosphere is bursting at the seams: gradually and violently.

~~

On my cycle home today my mind drifted as I cruised down the trail. The trail runs alongside a highway that snakes towards the suburbs of my home town and everyday I pedal past dozens of crawling motorists. The sky widens here as well. Today I stopped and took a moment to admire some interesting clouds.

20110406-100643.jpg
The anvil shape cloud, usually indicative of a pending thunderstorm, always draws my eye. The upper limit of the cloud is delineated by the tropopause – the top of the part of the sky where our weather exists (the troposphere), which is about ten miles above the ground. I imagine that limit as as a bubble, like a balloon, holding the breath of the world. This balloon is getting bigger.

In 2003, researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, along with researchers from NASA and others, released some findings demonstrating a link between global warming and the height of the tropopause. The finding indicates that the troposphere is getting larger, with a 200-meter increase in tropopause height from 1979 to 1999.

Benjamin Santer, one of the researchers, commented that “Our best understanding is that this increase is due to two factors: warming of troposphere, which is caused by increasing greenhouse gases, and cooling of the stratosphere, which is mainly caused by depletion of stratospheric ozone. Tropopause height changes give us independent evidence of the reality of ecent warming of the troposphere.”

Recently in my twitter feed I spotted some articles citing new concerns about holes in the ozone – this time they are extremely pronounced over the Arctic. This article says briefly, that it may be related to greenhouse gases… but suggests it does not yet pose a serious hazard. Hmmm. Really? It’s as though people are afraid to consider the consequences.

The ozone layer rests just above the troposphere in the stratosphere. Imagine, as I have, that the troposphere really is a balloon. What happens when you breath into a balloon and it expands? The membrane of the balloon thins.

Could it be that the expanding troposphere is thinning the ozone layer? I don’t see how this couldn’t be the case, though I’m not entirely certain how significant 200 meters is exactly. Regardless, with more energy and heat in our climate system, we can likely expect greater thinning of our protective ozone layer.

I don’t have a multi-million dollar model telling me this, and I haven’t spent days researching peer reviewed science, so forgive me if I’ve omitted a critical variable or two… and if you’ve got better insights, I more than welcome your comments.

I’m going mostly by my intuition here, but should this be the case, I’m a little concerned. It has graver implications for our skin and health of course, but also for the productivity of plants, upon which our entire food chain relies; upon which our economies and societies rely.

One more reason to get on your bike, shun the lines of traffic, and indulge in some fresh air and scenery.

To a new world waiting,

Heather

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5 Responses

  1. You may be interested in a recent blog post at Skeptical Science wherein we address the health risks associated with global warming, including ozone increases:
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/Health-Warning.html

    Thanks for all your efforts in climate change communications.
    Daniel Bailey
    Senior Admin, Skeptical Science

  2. […] Head in the clouds: expanding the sky and thinning the ozone […]

  3. I linked to your new article on the SkS FB page:
    http://www.facebook.com/SkepticalScience

    BTW, those of us at SkS are all unpaid volunteers with day jobs, like everyone else. I dream of the day when a Koch-like individual stands up for our children and grandchildren and says “Enough!”

    • Geez, thanks Daniel – I’m flattered 🙂 And, of course, very happy to contribute. I’m lucky in that I do get paid for some of my time communicating on climate change (by the provincial government). That communication is from government though… My blog is unfiltered, though a little tempered, given my role as a public facing public servant.

      Cheers!

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