Environment of Earth

September 16, 2009


Filed under: Atmospheric chemistry — gargpk @ 2:40 pm
Tags: ,

Most of the ozone in the atmosphere forms the Ozone layer in the stratosphere at altitudes between 10 and 40 km (100 to 0.1 mb pressure altitude) depending on latitude, just above the tropopause. This layer is crucial for life because only ozone absorbs UV-B radiation between 280-320 nm. UV-A rays between 320 and 400 nm are not affected by ozone while UV-C rays between 200 and 280 nm are absorbed by other atmospheric constituents also beside ozone.

Stratospheric ozone distributions are strongly dependent on stratospheric circulation patterns, varying according to latitude, seasons, short-term meteorological changes and the photochemical processes of formation and destruction. Major driving forces are availability of sunlight and thus of UV radiation and in upper stratosphere (above pressure altitude of 5 mb) the latitudinal temperature gradient which assists ozone transport. The ozone content of stratosphere is highly dynamic and variable. Its concentrations peak around the altitude of 30 km in tropics and around 15 to 20 km in polar regions.

Though hundreds of reactions are known to be involved in the ozone chemistry of stratosphere, only a few can be described properly. The ozone chemistry basically involves two types of reactions: those involved with ozone formation and those involved with ozone destruction. These two types of reactions are important because relationship between stratospheric ozone and climate has been studied particularly in association with ozone depletion and ultra-violet radiation. Another important feature is that above tropopause, liquid water does not play significant role and stratospheric ozone chemistry here is dominated by photochemical reactions.

1. Ozone formation: This itself is a photochemical process involving UV radiation of wavelength less than 242 nm. Though photodissociation of oxygen by UV radiation at less than 175 nm may yield an oxygen atom in excited state i.e. O(1D), such photodissociation is important only in the upper stratosphere because such short wavelength can not penetrate lower into stratosphere.

Thus in upper stratosphere reaction may be:

O2 + hv (<175 nm) ——> O(3P) + O(1D)

Oxygen atom in excited state on collision with some diatomic molecule (M2) yields oxygen atom in ground state i.e. O(3P):


O(1D) + M2 —————–> O(3P) + M2


while in lower stratosphere reaction is:

O2 + hv (175-242 nm) ———> O(3P) + O(3P)

The oxygen atoms in ground state react with diatomic oxygen molecules to form ozone:

O(3P) + O2 ———> O3

2. Ozone destruction: This involves those reactions which balance the photochemical formation of ozone in stratosphere:

O3 + hv ——> O2 + O(1D)

O3 + O ——-> 2O2

Another additional reaction for removal for oxygen atoms is:

O + O + M ——–> O2 + M

Many analogous reactions involving H, N and Cl radicals also occur in stratosphere:

OH + O3 ———> O2 + HO2

HO2 + O ———> OH + O2

NO + O3 ——–> O2 + NO2

NO2 + O ——–> NO + O2

O3 + Cl ——> O2 + ClO

ClO + O ——> O2 + Cl

All the above pairs of reactions are summed as:

O3 + O —–> 2O2

i.e. each pair of reactions involves destruction of ozone and atomic oxygen while restoring the OH, NO or Cl radical.