However, the damage was temporary and ozone levels returned to pre-wildfire levels as the smoke cleared from the stratosphere.
Smoke from wildfires, which have become a common phenomenon around the world, may destroy Earth’s ozone layer, a new study has found. The ozone shield in Earth’s stratosphere absorbs the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
Researchers at the University of Waterloo warned that if climate change caused major fires to become more common, more harmful ultraviolet radiation would hit the ground. They studied how smoke from the 2019 and 2020 Australian bushfires destroyed atmospheric ozone in the southern hemisphere for several months.
According to data from the European Union’s Copernicus satellite monitoring unit, last year’s wildfires in Yakutia in Russia’s Siberia region caused record CO2 emissions. Environmentalists fear that such fires, triggered by warm weather, could thaw Siberian permafrost and peatlands, releasing carbon long stored in the frozen tundra.
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In the study, published in the journal Science, the researchers used satellite data from the Canadian Space Agency’s Atmospheric Chemistry Experiment to measure the impact of smoke particles in the stratosphere.
“The Australian fires injected acidic smoke particles into the stratosphere, disrupting the chlorine, hydrogen and nitrogen chemistry that regulate ozone,” quoted the varsity lead author Peter Bernath.
Bernath, a research professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Waterloo, added: “This is the first major measurement of the smoke, showing that it converts these ozone-regulating compounds into more reactive compounds that destroy ozone.”
However, as with the holes over the polar regions, the damage was temporary and ozone levels returned to pre-wildfire levels as the smoke cleared from the stratosphere. But an increased prevalence of wildfires could mean that destruction is happening more frequently.
“The Atmospheric Chemistry Experiment (ACE) satellite is a unique mission with more than 18 consecutive years of atmospheric composition data. ACE measures a large collection of molecules to provide a better and more complete picture of what is happening in our atmosphere,” Bernath said.
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“Models cannot yet reproduce atmospheric smoke chemistry, so our measurements offer a unique look at the chemistry not seen before.”
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