Q:

What is destroying the ozone layer?

A:

Quick Answer

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other complex chemicals make their way into the upper reaches of the stratosphere where they decay and release chlorine and bromine atoms that destroy ozone. The chemical reactions caused by these substances break apart the ozone atom, removing its protective capacity and increasing the amount of ultraviolet radiation that can pass through the Earth's atmosphere.

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Full Answer

One of the reasons CFCs and other ozone-destroying substances are so dangerous is that they're extremely stable molecules that can last for years or decades. When these gases are released at ground level, it potentially takes many years for them to make their way through the atmosphere into the upper reaches of the ozone layer. There, the increased energy from the sun helps to break apart these complex molecules, creating free chlorine and bromine to react with the ozone molecules. A single molecule of chlorine can destroy as many as 100,000 ozone molecules during its lifespan.

In 1987 the Montreal Protocol banned the use of CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances, vastly reducing their output in the countries that signed the treaty. Unfortunately, the long-lived nature of these molecules means that a reduction in the upper atmosphere is only becoming apparent decades later, and it may take still more time for the ozone layer to recover.

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Related Questions

  • Q:

    How do CFCs affect the ozone layer?

    A:

    CFCs affect the ozone layer by destroying ozone molecules. CFCs, or chlorofluorocarbons, are normally stable molecules, but when UV rays strike them, they are broken down. The chlorine atom released from a CFC wreaks havoc on ozone molecules.

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  • Q:

    What damages the ozone layer?

    A:

    The atmospheric release of chlorofluorocarbons and hydrofluorocarbons causes a depletion of the ozone layer. When these chemicals reach the stratosphere, they react with UV light, releasing chlorine atoms that break apart ozone molecules.

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  • Q:

    How can we protect the ozone layer from being destroyed?

    A:

    In order to halt the depletion of the ozone layer, countries around the world have banned the use of chlorofluorocarbons and other ozone-depleting substances. These compounds produce chlorine and bromine atoms high in the atmosphere, and these atoms react with ozone, destroying it.

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  • Q:

    What is the benefit of the ozone layer?

    A:

    The ozone layer absorbs most of the biologically damaging ultraviolet radiation from the Sun, allowing only a small amount to pass. Through UV absorption, it creates a source of heat that defines the temperature characteristics of Earth's stratosphere. Left unfiltered, certain frequencies of UV radiation would more easily penetrate the protective coverings of organisms, causing severe damage to DNA molecules.

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