Connect with us

Nature

Ozone layer recovery: Jury is still out, but verdict likely soon

Published

on

Recent studies show that new dreams driven by short-time achievements make us forget the real objective and purpose of long-term missions. The global environmental accord called The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is a case in point. Its key objective is to protect the stratospheric ozone layer that shields life on the Earth. Has that mission been achieved?

Related image

The ozone layer is a protective screen about 8-50 kms from Earth’s surface. It filters out high-energy, destructive UV-rays from the Sun. After more than a decade of scientific postulations, vigorous studies and observations it was revealed that the ozone shield has been threatened by man-made chemicals, mainly chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and their emissions into the atmosphere.

Depletion of the ozone layer was considered a catastrophic risk to the life on the Earth.

In 1987, world leaders, after protracted negotiations under the UNEP, agreed that the way to protect the life-saving ozone layer was to phase-out production and consumption of CFCs, and nearly 100 other man-made ozone-depleting chemicals that travel up into the stratosphere. The Montreal Protocol was thus born and since then, has become a universally ratified treaty. All the member-states of UN are Parties to the Protocol.

Image result for UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said in 2000 that the Montreal Protocol

The Protocol will celebrate its 30th Anniversary later this year in Montreal. Indeed, there are reasons to be upbeat. Ninety-eight per cent of the production of ozone-depleting chemicals has been shut down. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said in 2000 that the Montreal Protocol was “perhaps the single-most successful international agreement so far”. More recently in 2017, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, called it as ‘milestone for all people and our planet’

The numbers are astounding and overwhelming. Without the Protocol, we could have got sunburnt in five minutes. There would have been an additional 280 million cases of skin cancer, 1.5 million skin cancer deaths and 45 million cataracts in the US alone, according to the Environment Protection Agency.

If the impact due to loss of food production due to UV rays penetrating through the ozone layer and the weakening of human immune system is considered, one can say that Earth has avoided the possibility of a sixth extinction.

Last year, there were global headlines when all countries unanimously agreed to amend the Protocol to include the “phase-down” of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). That was an unprecedented decision because HFCs do not only deplete the ozone Layer — albeit in a much weaker way than CFCs — they have a dangerously high global warming potential.

Interestingly, they are also part of the six Green House Gases (GHGs) packaged in the Paris Climate Agreement that aims to control their emissions. The countries, in other words, decided to help the Paris Climate Agreement by using another international treaty — the Montreal Protocol. Many called it “surrogate mothering” by the countries.

Image result for Ozone Hole Green House Gases

The reasons for this extraordinary “inter-treaty” intersect was that HFCs were mainly introduced to replace CFCs under the Montreal Protocol. In a way, the countries wanted to correct the inadvertent error they had committed by introducing HFCs. They rightly thought that all the successful armoury in the form of institutional and financing resources were accessible. Hence dreaming of conquering HFCs — albeit a new territory — was logical.

So, has the ozone layer being saved and is it on recovery mode?

One of the key factors to assess the success in its recovery is to measure the depth and extent of annual appearance of the “Ozone Hole” over Antarctica. Every spring (August to October), when the sun rays break out over the frozen continent, the chemical species riding on the tiny ice particles in the Antarctic vortex start destroying the ozone layer. This annual “dance festival” tells us the extent of the ozone hole’s recovery.

Flying over the lower end of the polar vortex recently in a DC-8 NASA aircraft loaded with 23 instruments, Paul A. Newman, the Agency’s Chief Scientist, measured the chemical radicals in the vertical column of atmosphere.

Newman said the NASA mission recorded that the 2017 ozone hole was unusually small and weak in depth. However, he was quick to add that “this weaker ozone hole is a result of year-to-year variability of the meteorology and it is still not known if it is an evidence of recovery because the meteorological variability masks the long-term projected trend”.

Variability is evidently having a last laugh.

In 2000, the hole had a record size. In 2002, it was half the size. In 2006, it was almost another record size. In 2012, it was second smallest. In 2016 it was again worse than average.

As per the latest 2014 UNEP-World Meteorological Organisation’s Scientific Assessment Panel report, the measured tropospheric concentrations of ozone depleting substances continue to decrease.

Susan Solomon, pioneer atmospheric scientist and Professor at MIT, stated in 2016 that we had succeeded in creating a situation for ozone layer recovery. The expected recovery is projected by the Science Assessment Panel by middle of this century.

I asked Dr Newman: “Tell me doctor, is the ozone layer finally recovering?”.

Quick came his response from the southern tip of Chile: “Ozone-depleting substances in the troposphere are decreasing. Chlorine and Bromine species in stratosphere are decreasing. On recovery of the Ozone Layer? Jury is still out, but we’re all pretty sure that they’ll soon render a verdict!”

(Rajendra Shende is Chairman, TERRE Policy Centre, IIT alumnus and former Director, UNEP. Views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at [email protected])

India

Need to exercise freedom with responsibility, says Sadhguru in new book

Published

on

Sadhguru Vasudev

New Delhi, Feb 14 (IANS) Everybody should understand the fundamentals of a republic, and when all of us are allowed to say and do what we want, we should exercise that freedom with responsibility, says revered yogi and mystic Sadhguru.

He says that democracy is not perfect, but it “does allow a constant process of course correction”, before adding that on a personal level he refuses to identify with the borders that divide humanity into political entities called nations.

“But a democratic nationhood seems to be the best instrument we have right now. Better a geographical boundary than that of race, religion or ethnicity. Until we achieve the utopian world of absolute unity, which is only achievable by raising human consciousness, a nation is, fortunately or unfortunately, sacrosanct,” he notes.

These observations appear in Sadhguru’s latest book “Flowers on the Path”, published by Penguin Random House India.

The 61-year-old says that a republic is “a congregation of people”, who have come to an agreement of their “oneness, not their sameness”.

He states that as a product of “mutual agreement”, a democratic constitution can only “provoke debate, never a revolt”.

“Those who talk of overthrowing regimes in a democratic society are still feeding on the outdated romance of revolution, a hangover from a past when despots ruled with the power of sword or gun. Such an approach has no place in a society with a constitutionally elected government.”

However, he is quick to point out that his assertions do not mean “passive acquiescence”.

“Every citizen must be encouraged to think, question, challenge and express freely and fearlessly. This is our inviolable right – the basis of a lively democracy,” he says.

He suggests our education system must provide a mature understanding of democratic process so that citizens realise that “democracy spells the rule of institutions, not the caprice of individual whim”.

Continue Reading

Nature

NASA’s new space telescope to explore origins of universe

Published

on

NASA Earth ICESat 2

Washington, Feb 14 (IANS) US space agency NASA has unveiled a new space telescope that would begin a two-year mission in 2023 to look for life’s ingredients and probe how the universe evolved.

The Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionisation and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx) mission is a planned two-year mission, funded at $242 million, and will survey the sky in optical as well as near-infrared light.

“I’m really excited about this new mission,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Not only does it expand the US’ powerful fleet of space-based missions dedicated to uncovering the mysteries of the universe, it is a critical part of a balanced science programme that includes missions of various sizes,” he added.

Astronomers will use the mission to gather data on more than 300 million galaxies, as well as more than 100 million stars in our own Milky Way.

“This amazing mission will be a treasure trove of unique data for astronomers,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

“It will deliver an unprecedented galactic map containing ‘fingerprints’ from the first moments in the universe’s history. And we’ll have new clues to one of the greatest mysteries in science: What made the universe expand so quickly less than a nanosecond after the big bang?”

SPHEREx will survey hundreds of millions of galaxies near and far, some so distant their light has taken 10 billion years to reach Earth.

In the Milky Way, the mission will search for water and organic molecules — essentials for life — in stellar nurseries, regions where stars are born from gas and dust, as well as disks around stars where new planets could be forming.

Every six months, SPHEREx will survey the entire sky using technologies adapted from Earth satellites and Mars spacecraft. The mission will create a map of the entire sky in 96 different colour bands, far exceeding the colour resolution of previous all-sky maps.

It will also identify targets for more detailed study by future missions, such as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, NASA said.

Continue Reading

Blog

Green activists to build a Taj with plastic/polythene waste in Agra

Eco-bricks are made of plastic bottles that are stuffed with polythene bags and sealed.

Published

on

Taj mahal

Agra, Jan 22 : Green activists will attempt to construct a Taj Mahal with plastic and polythene waste at the Etmauddaula viewpoint park on the Yamuna river here.

At a workshop here by NGO Unfold Foundation to train activists on making eco-bricks with plastic bottles, members of the River Connect Campaign announced they would work on putting together a model of the Taj Mahal with these building blocks. The efforts could take around six months.

Eco-bricks are made of plastic bottles that are stuffed with polythene bags and sealed.

“This is a highly cost effective waste-control exercise based on common sense. We collect used plastic bottles, pack them with packing material, gutkha pouches and polythene, make the bottles air tight and seal them. The bottles become rock solid and are good enough to last 500 years,” Dr Meeta Kulshreshtha, a surgeon, and coordinator of Unfold Foundation, told IANS.

“If one person can give us one bottle filled with waste material, in one year, we will have 20 lakh such eco-bricks to build any solid structure,” Programme Convener Harvijay Bahia said.

River Connect Campaign member Chaturbhuj Tiwari said: “Every week when we clean a patch of Yamuna riverbed, we gather heaps of polythene and used plastic material. If we can manage to fill all this in plastic bottles and jars, we could not only help solve a major urban problem, but have material ready for a structure to be used by the public. Tree guards, benches and stools are among the products that can be made.”

The Taj city daily generates around a thousand tons of civic garbage, most of it plastic and polythene waste.

“If each household starts filling up bottles with used polythene bags and sliced plastic, we could easily prevent pollution of rivers and water bodies and also avoid choking of drains and sewer lines,” social activist Shravan Kumar Singh said.

(Brij Khandelwal can be reached at [email protected])

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Most Popular