According to recent study from Lancaster University, NASA, and others, protecting the ozone layer also preserves the Earth’s flora and may help keep the globe from warming by an extra 0.85 degrees Celsius (1.53 degrees Fahrenheit). This new study published in Nature demonstrates that the Montreal Protocol, which regulates ozone-depleting substances and protects the ozone layer, which blocks harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation, also protects plants – and their ability to pull carbon from the atmosphere – by protecting the ozone layer. Previous climate change research has failed to take into consideration the effect of plants on the environment.
“We are aware that the ozone layer is linked to climate change. We are aware that greenhouse gases have an impact on the ozone layer. We’ve never done it before, but this is the first time we’ve made this connection between the ozone layer and the terrestrial carbon cycle,” said Paul Young, lead author and atmospheric and climate scientist at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom.
The ozone layer in the high atmosphere, also known as the stratosphere, protects living tissue from ultraviolet light, which may be harmful to plants. In 1985, scientists found that the ozone “hole” was caused by human emissions of hlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which are ozone-depleting chemicals and greenhouse gases that were formerly widely used as refrigerants in refrigerators and in aerosols such as hairspray but are now banned. By the Montreal Protocol, which was signed in 1987 and its following modifications, they were eventually phased out of usage.
Scientists have already created computer simulations of the future we escaped by banning CFCs. Following up on its previous research, a new study asks the same question: what would happen if CFCs were to continue to be released into the environment? as well as the impact on plants were investigated. “Previous world-avoided studies have never taken into account the effects of increasing UV radiation on plants, and what that would imply for the plants’ capacity to store carbon,” Young said. “
Using a succession of models, the team was able to obtain a more comprehensive picture and simulate two different hypothetical scenarios: the predicted future and the averted future. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is home to research physical scientists who study atmospheric chemistry and dynamics. “The world projected is similar to the path we’re currently on,” said Luke Oman, a research physical scientist who focuses on atmospheric chemistry and dynamics. In other words, “the world ignored symbolizes a route that was not taken.”
The researchers anticipated that CFC emissions would rise at the same pace as they did in the world-avoided scenario, which was 3 percent per year from the 1970s until the present. Global ozone layer depletion is predicted to reach unprecedented levels by 2050, according to the models used to predict it. It is predicted that by 2100, the ozone holes that develop in the tropics would be worse than the Antarctic ozone hole, which has been seen.
An ozone layer depletion, according to their models of the world-averted, would allow more damaging ultraviolet (UV) radiation to reach the surface, limiting plants’ ability to store CO2 as a result of photosynthesis in their tissue and soil. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, atmospheric CO2 levels are projected to be 30% higher than they would be on Earth’s present trajectory. As a result, the Earth would likely be 0.85 degrees Celsius (1.53 degrees Fahrenheit) hotter in that “world-avoided” scenario, mostly as a result of the effect on plants.
Specifically, Young said that this worldwide depletion of the ozone layer would enable much more damaging ultraviolet light from the sun to reach the surface, which would essentially sunburn the plants on Earth. Earth’s trees and plants would be much less effective at photosynthesis, limiting their capacity to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it, resulting in carbon being trapped in plant tissue and soil for many years after the climate change occurs. Damage to plants would result in a loss of carbon storage in forests, soil, and vegetation totaling 580 billion metric tons over the course of the year. Instead, it would be discharged into the sky, raising atmospheric CO2 levels by an average of 30 percent as compared to the world’s predicted scenario, according to the World Bank.
According to the simulations, only the massive increase in atmospheric CO2 would be enough to cause global temperatures to rise by 0.85 degrees Celsius (1.53 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100. Those effects are in addition to those caused by the past and anticipated emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases, as well as the 1.7°C (3.06 °F) rise in temperature directly associated with higher levels of CFC emissions in this scenario.
But how do we know that this “avoided world” scenario is anything like the one that would have emerged if the Montreal Protocol had not been implemented? After developing their models, the researchers tested them against historical data gathered by NASA satellites as well as other publicly accessible data from NASA’s partners. Taking ozone levels collected by the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) onboard NASA’s Aura satellite as an example, the researchers compared those levels to what the models ‘predicted’ would occur. According to the scientists, their model’s predictions were very similar to what really occurred in the past, giving them confidence that their model would be able to correctly predict what could happen in the future.