Ozone Hole Watch (May 19, 2015). Image from NASA.
Did I get your attention? Then read on!!
Can you imagine a world where you stepped out for a five minute walk on a nice day and came back with a sunburn? You could be living in that world if scientists and policy makers hadn’t worked together back in the 1980’s to avoid it. Remember the hole in the ozone–the ozone crisis? Did you ever wonder what happened?
In 1987 the Montreal Protocol was signed and the regulation of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HCFCs) was agreed to by the signatory nations (CFC use in spray cans was banned in the U.S. in 1978). They were also used as refrigerants and solvents and as blowing agents for foam and were actually developed before WWII as a safe alternative to the ammonia, methyl chloride and sulfur dioxide used in refrigeration at the time. What wasn’t known then was when CFCs and HCFCs reach the stratosphere, the ultraviolet radiation from the sun causes them to break apart and release chlorine atoms which react with ozone, starting chemical cycles of ozone destruction that deplete the ozone layer. One chlorine atom can break apart more than 100,000 ozone molecules (the work of researchers studying this in 1974 led to the 1995 Nobel Prize for chemistry). The ozone layer is what protects plants and animals from the harmful effects of solar ultraviolet radiation, and damage to the ozone can leave us humans more vulnerable to skin cancer.
Now, getting to Paul Newman’s connection to the ozone! We are excited to have Dr. Paul A. Newman here at the Library on May 28th from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Pickford Theater as our first speaker in the 2015 NASA/Goddard lecture series sponsored by our Division. He plays the real life role of Chief Scientist for Atmospheric Sciences in the Earth Sciences Division at NASA/Goddard. He is also the co-chair of the Scientific Assessment Panel to the Montreal Protocol. His group reports on the state of ozone depletion every four years. His talk will be: “A World Avoided: How Science & Policy Solved a Global Ozone Crisis.“
If you’re interested in learning in depth about stratospheric ozone or if you’re a teacher, Dr. Newman and colleagues have an electronic textbook you can consult: Stratospheric Ozone . If you can attend the lecture, you will be able to see and hear Paul Newman free–no tickets necessary. If not, the program will be webcast for later viewing on the Library of Congress webcast page and on its You Tube channel “Topics in Science” playlist in the coming months .
This post was authored by science reference librarian Stephanie Marcus, who coordinates the NASA Goddard lectures series at the Library.
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