Why is Lower Stratospheric Ozone Not Recovering?

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: School of Earth and Environment


Depletion of stratospheric ozone allows larger doses of harmful solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation to reach the surface leading to increases in skin cancer and cataracts in humans and other impacts, such as crop damage. Ozone also affects the Earth's radiation balance and, in particular, ozone depletion in the lower stratosphere (LS) exerts an important climate forcing. While most long-lived ozone-depleting substances (ODSs, e.g. chlorofluorocarbons, CFCs) are now controlled by the United Nations Montreal Protocol and their abundances are slowly declining, there remains significant uncertainty surrounding the rate of ozone layer recovery. Although signs of recovery have been detected in the upper stratosphere and the Antarctic, this is not the case for the lower stratosphere at middle and low latitudes. In fact, contrary to expectations, ozone in this extrapolar lower stratosphere has continued to decrease (by up to 5% since 1998). The reason(s) for this are not known, but suggested causes include changes in atmospheric dynamics or the increasing abundance of short-lived reactive iodine and chlorine species. We will investigate the causes of this ongoing depletion using comprehensive modelling studies and new targeted observations of the short-lived chlorine substances in the lower stratosphere.

While the Montreal Protocol has controlled the production of long-lived ODSs, this is not the case for halogenated very short-lived substances (VSLS, lifetimes <6 months), based on the belief that they would not be abundant or persistent enough to have an impact. Recent observations suggest otherwise, with notable increases in the atmospheric abundance of several gases (CH2Cl2, CHCl3), due largely to growth in emissions from Asia. A major US aircraft campaign based in Japan in summer 2021 will provide important new information on how these emissions of short-lived species reach the stratosphere via the Asian Summer Monsoon (ASM). UEA will supplement the ACCLIP campaign by making targeted surface observations in Taiwan and Malaysia which will help to constrain chlorine emissions.

The observations will be combined with detailed and comprehensive 3-D modelling studies at Leeds and Lancaster, who have world-leading expertise and tools for the study of atmospheric chlorine and iodine. The modelling will use an off-line chemical transport model (CTM), ideal for interpreting observations, and a coupled chemistry-climate model (CCM) which is needed to study chemical-dynamical feedbacks and for future projections. Novel observations on how gases are affected by gravitational separation will be used to test the modelled descriptions of variations in atmospheric circulation. The CTM will also be used in an 'inverse' mode to trace back the observations of anthropogenic VSLS to their geographical source regions.

The models will be used to quantify the flux of short-lived chlorine and iodine species to the stratosphere and to determine their impact on lower stratospheric ozone trends. The impact of dynamical variability will be quantified using the CTM and the drivers of this determined using the CCM. The model results will be analysed using the same statistical models used to derive the decreasing trend in ozone from observations, including the Dynamical Linear Model (DLM). Overall, the results of the model experiments will be synthesised into an understanding of the ongoing decrease in lower stratospheric ozone. This information will then be used to make improved future projections of how ozone will evolve, which will feed through to the policy-making process (Montreal Protocol) with the collaboration of expert partners. The results of the project will provide important information for future international assessments e.g. WMO/UNEP and IPCC reports.


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