Twenty Questions and Answers About the Ozone Layer: 2010 Update

2010 Ozone Assessment Twenty Questions and Answers About the Ozone Layer cover

Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion: 2010

World Meteorological Organization Global Ozone Research and Monitoring Project - Report No. 52

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

United Nations Environment Programme

World Meteorological Organization

European Commission



Additional Topics: Replacing Lost Ozone in the Stratosphere

The idea is sometimes put forth that humans could compensate for lost global stratospheric ozone by replacing it. Ozone could be manufactured, stored, transported to the stratosphere, and released in depleted regions. Unfortunately, the idea has substantial practical limitations.

Ozone amounts in the stratosphere reflect a continual balance between chemical production and destruction (see Q2: How is ozone formed in the atmosphere? PDF file). The addition of chlorine and bromine to the stratosphere from human activities has changed the natural balance by increasing ozone destruction and, thereby, lowering stratospheric ozone amounts. Chlorine and bromine destroy ozone in catalytic reactions that allow each atom to destroy many thousands of ozone molecules (see Q9: What are the chlorine and bromine reactions that destroy stratospheric ozone? PDF file). A one-time injection of manufactured ozone to the stratosphere would not restore the natural balance because the added ozone would be destroyed in the same chemical reactions with chlorine and bromine within about a year. Thus, ozone additions would need to be large and continuous as long as stratospheric chlorine and bromine amounts remained enhanced above natural amounts, a condition expected to persist for several decades (see Q16: Has the Montreal Protocol been successful in reducing ozone-depleting substances in the atmosphere? PDF file). Continuous replacement for decades would pose unprecedented technical and resource challenges that will likely be unacceptable to decision makers in the international community.

Specific technical difficulties in replacing stratospheric ozone are the large amounts of ozone required and the delivery method. The total amount of atmospheric ozone is approximately 3,000 megatons (1 megaton = 1 billion kilograms) with most residing in the stratosphere. Compensating for the average global ozone loss, currently about 3%, would require 90 megatons of ozone to be distributed regularly throughout the stratosphere many kilometers above Earth's surface. The energy required to produce this amount of ozone would be a significant fraction of the electrical power generated annually in the United States, for example, which is now approximately 4 trillion kilowatt hours. Processing and storing requirements for ozone, which is explosive and toxic in large quantities, would increase the energy requirement. In addition, methods suitable to deliver and distribute large amounts of ozone to the stratosphere have not been developed. Concerns for a global delivery system would include further significant energy use and unforeseen environmental consequences.