The ozone layer refers to the tri-atomic oxygen layer found in the upper part of the atmosphere. The stratosphere accommodates over nine-tenths of the earth’s total ozone by volume. This gas is colorless with a characteristic repugnant smell. An ozone molecule contains three oxygen atoms in a covalent bond. This layer is responsible for the filtration of harmful radiation from the sun which may otherwise harm both plants and animals on the earth’s surface. The ultra-violet radiation is stopped by the ozone layer before it penetrates onto our skins and causes complications like skin cancer and eye cataracts.
This paper explores the possible effects of the concentration of chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere alongside the political and scientific debate surrounding the existence and causal factors of the ozone hole. A concise explanation of the subject of global warming and climate change besides a model ecosystem is deliberated upon.
The Ozone Hole
For nearly twenty years or so, there has been intense alarm raised by the scientific community that chlorofluorocarbons and “halons (bromine-containing fluorocarbons may deplete the stratospheric ozone shield” (Parker &Morrissey 2003). This layer plays a vital role in controlling the number of ultraviolet rays that eventually land on the surface of the planet earth. The use of CFCs has been rampant both in small and large-scale operations. For instance, refrigerants and some bromine-containing fluorocarbons make use of CFCS. Reduced body immune system and suppressed production of both land and aquatic animals are some of the notable effects of excessive ozone penetration onto the earth’s surface.
Both politicians and scientists tend to agree to the blatant truth about the depleting ozone layer. For this reason and due to the overwhelming concern over imminent erosion of the ozone layer, forty-seven countries including the U.S unanimously came to a consensus over Montreal Protocol in September 1987. There was an urgent need to reduce the uptake of products that were deemed to chemically attack and erode the ozone layer. Currently, close to over two hundred countries are signatories to this accord. As a result, the highly industrialized countries have worked towards meeting the agreement of the protocol by cutting down the production and consumption of halon-containing fluorocarbons.
In spite of this consensus, politicians and scientists do not speak in one voice as far the subject of the ozone hole is concerned. The disturbing question remains whether this “hole” really exists and if human activities have contributed to its origin.
The Ozone hole Watch (2009) documents that there were several scientific discoveries that were conducted throughout the twentieth century that attempted to correlate man-made substances like CFCs and their effect on the ozone layer. The research findings dating back as early as 1910 depicted “unusual veil-type clouds in the polar stratosphere” (Ozone hole Watch 2009). These explorers were however oblivious of the significance of these findings at this time. Later during the mid-1950s, serious scientific ozone measurement began courtesy of the British Antarctic Survey. Both ground and aerial instruments that were used to measure ozone gave consistent results in which a rapid drop by volume of the stratospheric ozone was recorded. In fact, these early ozone monitoring gave critical clues that indeed something was not right. Further studies of the ozone layer followed thereafter. The 1985 journal published by a group of scientists revealed a major reduction in the volume of the ozone layer over Antarctica. Moreover, scientists based at NASA monitored the ozone using data from the Total Ozone Mapping spectrometer among other instruments. The results were more or less the same: the total volume of the ozone layer was constantly reducing. By 1987, a clue had already been reached by scientists on a hole that was developing. The main cause of this hole is believed to be the infiltration of chlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere which has chemically reacted with the tri-atomic oxygen thereby depleting it. Dr. M. Molina and S. Rowland had a strong conviction that commercial compounds like CFCs were responsible for the depletion of the ozone layer. This notion was taken lightly at first but later became a reality when a “hole” was discovered over Antarctica (Ozone Hole Watch 2009). In spite of this scientific proof, some counties have continued to play political games by arguing that the so-called ozone hole may not be a result of human activities. Nonetheless, Sweden became the first nation in 1988 to adopt legislation that would aim at completely doing away with the production, distribution and consumption of CFC-related products.
It is evident that the depletion of the ozone layer which has consequently led to the development of the ozone hole is a result of unhealthy human activities to the environment. The use of products that contain CFCs has been labeled by scientists all over the world as the main channel through which CFCs find their way into the stratosphere. In order to support this argument, I would like to investigate the following aspects that can help resolve the devastating effects of CFCs.
Effects of the Ozone hole on Penguins
Up to date, there are no solid scientific research studies on the effects of ultraviolet rays on penguins. The disposition of their eyes to these rays is more compared to other birds (Bornman &Van der Leun 1998). Since no research has been carried out on this, it is only appropriate that some funds are commissioned from the government to facilitate the research. Penguins hunt on their prey through visual ability hence if their eyes undergo any form of damage, it may also as well lead to massive deaths.
Effect on Amphibians
There is a downward trend in the overall population of amphibians in many parts of the globe. Scientists are equally not sure whether the drop in population is a result of habitat modification or complete habitat damage (Bornman &Van der Leun 1998). In some cases, it may be a result of natural attrition. Other possible reasons for the decline include infections as well as terrestrial, aquatic and atmospheric alterations in the natural ecosystem. This lack of a definite explanation on whether UV-B rays directly affect the amphibian population calls for further scientific research. I would convince the government to allocate some financial resources to facilitate research and experimental work in this area.
Some studies have indicated that polluted air has a relative tendency of protecting the human skin layer from UV-B rays penetration. In fact, air pollution cannot be accommodated or embraced as a solution to the effects of these harmful rays. If this is allowed, then it would be at a higher cost because pollution itself is responsible for a myriad of other problems. Some of the complications associated with air pollution include respiratory ailments, destruction of plant cells and damage to eye parts (Bornman &Van der Leun 1998).meanwhile, a serious experiment needs to be initiated on how air pollution can reduce the penetration of UV-B rays. In spite of such research being carried out, it should be noted that UV-B alleviation through a polluted aura cannot be recommended at all.
Evaluating the mitigation strategies
There is an equal need to assess the cost-cost benefit analysis of the Montreal Protocol. Has the protocol yielded any fruit two decades after its adoption? Although some countries have passed some pieces of legislation in an attempt to phase out the emission and consumption of Chlorofluorocarbons, it may just be on paper and void of any pragmatic measures. Government-supported research into the protocol implementation is imperative. After the analysis, necessary recommendations should be fused and merged into the original protocol to enhance its benefit. An outstanding example of a cost-benefit analysis is the research which was facilitated by Environment Canada which was meant to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the “Montreal Protocol on Substances that Delete the Ozone Layer” (Bornman &Van der Leun 1998). The expenses were computed for all the mitigation strategies that were taken worldwide to reduce ozone depletion. Similar studies should be conducted on a national scale for the sole purpose of evaluation and amendments.
The Montreal Protocol
The Montreal Protocol of 1987 put some limitations on the production and consumption of ozone eroding substances. This protocol has worked positively towards tackling the problem of climate change and global warming. Moreover, the ozone layer has been secured with the enactment of this protocol (Velders et al. 2007). From the current estimates, the benefits that have been accrued by the Montreal Protocol have overwhelmingly gone beyond the actual objectives of the Kyoto Protocol which was greatly violated by the key players in the developed and highly industrialized countries. The Kyoto Protocol attempted to address the strategy of emission quotas by high emitters. However, little has been achieved even as the main emitters of greenhouse gases like the United States continue to produce tons of carbon dioxide and methane.
The notable outcomes of the Montreal Protocol will diminish with time because of the duration it has been on the operation. On this note, the Kyoto Protocol is expected to pick up and have significant impacts on climate change. The chlorofluorocarbons alongside other ozone eroding agents have now been identified on a worldwide scale as the main impetus to the deterioration of the stratospheric ozone. “This ozone protocol represents a landmark in the successful reduction and use of these compounds” (Velders et al. 2007). In addition, the latest research data from reputable scientific organizations like NASA shows that the depleted ozone layer is currently on a recovery path. Another side benefit to the Montreal Protocol besides the conservation of the ozone layer is that it has equally alleviated the rate at which global temperatures have been rising and the associated impact on the overall climate. The research study further reveals that were it not for the Montreal Protocol which correlated the erosion of the ozone layer with the production and use of chlorofluorocarbons, the impact on this layer would have reached alarming levels by now. Therefore, the protocol acted as a vital sensitizing tool to the endangered ozone layer as it facilitated the signing of a pact binding to the participating countries.
The Montreal Protocol can still achieve much in the coming decades. By targeting and destroying chlorofluorocarbons found in certain CFC appliances like foam mattresses and fridges as well as restricting the manufacture of partially halogenated CFCs and also adopting optional gases which do not seriously impact the global temperature can lead to a real-time achievement by the Montreal Protocol.
The international community has never hesitated to refer to the Montreal Protocol as a major breakthrough in environmental concern. By the beginning of the new Millennium, NASA pointed out that the slimming ozone layer over Antarctica had remained significantly of the same level for a record period of four years. Despite this stunning revelation by NASA, the ozone hole had notably expanded towards the mid of the first decade in the New Millennium. However, this has not thwarted the effort of policymakers and there is much in store for the Montreal Protocol. The recent assessment of the Montreal Protocol highlights that the ozone protection mechanisms are on course. There is vivid proof of the reduced stratospheric load of substances that deplete ozone. For this reason, the Montreal Protocol has realized more success than failure in its pursuit to minimize the depletion of the ozone layer.
Global Warming and Climate Change
The Earth’s temperature is “controlled by the balance between the input from the energy of the sun and the loss of this back into space” (Maslin 2004). This balance can be altered if certain atmospheric gases are injected into the atmospheric system. Energy from the sun is radiated back into the atmosphere in form of longwave radiation which is then held back by these greenhouse gases. If the condition becomes extreme, it results in a general global temperature hike leading to a phenomenon called global warming.
There has been increasing awareness over the past few years over the devastating effects of global warming. The political class, research scientists and the general public have voiced their concerns and views on the global warming debate. The proponents of this debate argue that unhealthy human activities have significantly changed the climate patterns of the world, probably to the worst state. Those who oppose this point of view assert that the concept of global warming is just a creation of the mind and not a reality. They feel that the world has never been hotter than it is today and that whatever is being experienced today are mere climatic variations that are not permanent.
According to Silver and DeFries (1990), the 1980’s happened to be the warmest period ever witnessed on a global scale. However, scientists were still in doubt by that time whether these were simply normal climatic variations or a reflection of excessive emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere due to human activities. Equally still, Silver and DeFries point out that an isolated incidence of abnormal temperature rise cannot be used to conclusively give a fair judgment that indeed global warming is due. If indeed violent tornados and strange heat changes have been experienced in the past decades, then there is no doubt certain parameters have changed in our climate patterns. It should be understood that heavy storms and erratic global temperatures have a direct influence on the rate of evaporation. As a result, rapid and dense condensation takes place amounting to extreme precipitation.
What about the effects of greenhouse gas emissions? Scientists have unanimously confirmed that trace gases such as methane, water vapor, carbon dioxide and CFC’s among others have the ability to trap radiated heat from the surface of the earth. They create a ‘blanket’ effect and therefore making the region below warmer than usual. The truth is that human activities like incineration have continued to increase greenhouse gas concentration paving the way for global warming. The theory and practical concept of the greenhouse effect “explain the cold climate of Mars…the hot climate of Venus…and the modern climate here on earth” (Silver & DeFries 1990). This scientific approach is proof of global warming and any debate against this contemporary yet life-threatening issue is uncalled for.
Reay (2005) in his book Climate Change Begins at Home explains that human lifestyle is to blame for the climate change and global warming being experienced and that the Carbones have a skewed view of seeing climate change as a third world problem. This is very ironic because much of the unwarranted human pollution comes from the developed world. How then should global warming be a developing world concern? In any case, if human existence is wiped out from third-world countries, then they will lack a market for their products. There is a need for a lot of sense to be put into this global peril. Reay adds that we will not realize the consequences of climate change until when the full impact will be upon us.
The prediction by Scientists that global warming will endanger the planet in the next one hundred years is alarming (Maslin 2004). If the planet is warmed by between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees, then it will be inevitable to escape this glaring danger. The politics behind global warming is damaging. Society, has to a larger extent, influenced the origin and development of global warming (National Research Council 1989). More convincing scientific research reports released in the past are solid proof of the menace of global warming. This dismissive outlook on global warming took a different direction in1940s when “significant improvement in infrared spectroscopy, the technique used to measure long-wave radiation” (Maslin 2004) was unveiled. The experiments carried out thereafter gave sufficient scientific proof that carbon dioxide is capable of stopping the longwave radiation from the earth’s surface thereby making the region below warmer.
A Model Ecosystem
An ecosystem model is a well-arranged and systematic representation of how nature and living organisms relate to each other (Muir 2000). These models are curved from impractical ecology. The main purpose of a model ecosystem is to simplify the complicated natural ecology which is usually hard to understand.
An example of a model ecosystem that I would build is that of an energy flow. It comprises compartments or sections. Each part represents a particular environmental aspect. Three compartments can do for this case, namely one holding soil, the other one plants and the last one for animals. Each of the sections would have to be correlated to each other through the transmission of energy. The energy can flow from plants to animals. Alternatively, the same energy can be transmitted from both plants and animals directed towards the soil. This model ecosystem does not only permit transfers but also outputs or outflows. For example, each compartment experiences outflows due to respiration. The inflow is also very imperative. For instance, energy from the sun is needed in the plant section. Such a model makes reality appear simple and easy to comprehend. Our level of appreciating the information is equally higher with such systems.
There are several advantages of making use of use of a model ecosystem. To begin with, a model ecosystem permits the study of the fate or nature of the environment. The repercussions of this study are also analyzed simultaneously as the study goes on. In addition, a model ecosystem testing process is very pragmatic and makes sense. It assists the user to comprehend the application of acute and long-term data for the purpose of conserving the environment. Besides these merits, the assessment process is highly monitored in terms of light intensity, chemical quantities and the flow of the river (Muir 2000). Moreover, detailed aquatic life with thousands of species can be tested and assessed within a very short time. It would not be possible to quantitatively test all these species in a laboratory setup. Finally, it gives the opportunity to relate and correlate species as they interact in their natural environment and how they generally affect the survival of one another.
The above model ecosystem is affected in a variety of ways by the carbon cycle. To begin, it is important to bear in mind that the carbon cycle refers to the transfer of carbon between the earth’s surface and the atmosphere. In this respect, the plant compartment in the model above will absorb carbon dioxide gas in the process of photosynthesis. On the other hand, plants breathe out carbon dioxide in the process of respiration. Carbon is also found in soil in form of dead organic matter.
The hydrological cycle refers to the movement of water particles in cycles starting from condensation-precipitation-run off-infiltration and evaporation. Evaporation will take place from the soil. Plants and animals will also lose moisture in the atmosphere.
Phosphorus is a vital nutrient required for the sustenance of plants and animals’ life in the above ecosystem. They absorb it in form of phosphates and hydrogen phosphates because it is found in the soil as well. Phosphorus will only be cycled through soil, water and plants since it cannot be found in the atmosphere as a gas.
Finally, the above model ecosystem will also be affected by the nitrogen cycle. Nitrogen will be utilized by plants to process proteins. In the atmosphere, it exists as a gas and is fixed into the soil by lightning from thunderstorms.
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