Environment of Earth

September 13, 2009


Filed under: Atmospheric chemistry — gargpk @ 2:55 pm
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The ozone present in troposphere and stratosphere together constitute the total atmospheric ozone. The atmospheric ozone has important impact on the global climate system. The production and loss of ozone in both troposphere and stratosphere are strongly linked to atmospheric chemistry at both levels. Both areas of ozone are also influenced by four major processes that basically dominate the biogeochemical cycles in atmosphere:

1. Emissions from natural and anthropogenic sources

2. Chemical transformations and reactions

3. Atmospheric transport through circulation

4. Removal mechanisms

Ozone chemistry of troposphere

The troposheric ozone concentrations make up only 13% of total ozone in atmosphere yet ozone of this zone has major impact on climatic change through its effect on global warming. Natural background ozone concentrations can only be found in atmospheres of rural and remote areas while over urban centres, unnatural ozone concentrations are created by anthropogenic emissions of various substances that have profound effect on ozone chemistry. In unperturbed troposphere, the formation and destruction of ozone are part of a dynamic balance controlled mainly through ozone sources from marine and terrestrial biospheres and sinks atmospheric photochemistry and surface depositions. Anthropogenic emissions entering this system change the balance both spatially and temporally and such changes can be transferred globally by atmospheric transport mechanisms.

Naturally the tropospheric ozone is a secondary constituent originating from two main sources:

1. In upper troposphere, major source is transport of ozone from stratosphere

2. In middle and lower troposphere, photochemical mechanisms of ozone production

The concentration of ozone at any level in troposphere is determined mainly by photochemical mechanisms of its formation and destruction. Photochemistry dominates the ozone cycle particularly in middle and lower troposphere atleast for three reasons:

(a) Presently calculated rate of loss of ozone are about four times higher than the rate which would have occurred if tropospheric ozone originated completely in stratosphere

(b) Measured increase in ozone over urban areas can only be photochemical in origin

(c) Larger concentration of ozone in Northern Hemisphere than in Southern Hemisphere despite larger land surface sink can only be attributed to atmospheric photochemical reactions.

Recent estimates show that maximum ozone produced per year in troposphere is about 6.5 x 1011 molecules cm-1 s-1. Higher concentrations of ozone occur in mid-latitudes of Northern Hemisphere because of higher number of precurssor sources there. Minimum ozone concentrations occur in equatorial regions around 100 S caused partially by stronger photochemical destruction in the tropics and partially by background ocean conditions in Southern Hemisphere. Average ozone concentrations in free troposphere are 39 ppbv in Northern Hemisphere and 24 ppbv in Southern Hemisphere. Representative latitudinal ozone concentrations in free troposphere are 30-40 ppbv in 30-600 S, 20 ppbv in 0-300 S, 20-30 ppbv in 0-200 N and 30-50 ppbv in 20-600 N.

Vertical distribution of ozone differs between hemispheres and with distribution of important chemical precursors, particularly CO. In Northern Hemisphere, on average the ozone concentration increases slightly with altitude and boundary layer ozone concentrations are about 1.1 to 1.5 lower than the free troposphere. In Southern Hemisphere, there is little variation in ozone concentration with altitude and ozone in boundary layer does not decrease significantly compared to free troposphere.

The formation and destruction of ozone in troposphere depends heavily on the OH radical concentration and associated reaction efficiency. The process is initiated by photodissociation of ozone by sunlight and the formation of OH from water and oxygen:

O3 + hv (300-330 nm) ——-> O2 + O(1D)

O(1D) + H2O ——> OH + OH ( R = 2.3 x 10-10)

OH formation depends on water in troposphere. As a rough estimate, H2O0.5-1.0 approximates OH concentrations. Since Oh is a highly reactive radical, it is very short-lived in troposphere. Its concentrations sow diurnal variations, particularly in higher latitudes linked to solar-energy variations. At night, OH concentrations are supposed to fall by two orders of magnitude as compared to daytime with minimum concentrations about 105 molecules cm-3 and maximum concentrations near mid-noon about 107 molecules cm-3.

In the troposphere, apart from OH radical other critical species for basic gas-phase reactions are nitrogen oxides (NO, NO2, Nox), free hydrogen/oxygen radicals (OH, HO2), methane and non-methane hydrocarbons (designated by general term RO2 and carbon monoxide. These processes are strongly linked to one another and depend heavily in the concentrations of the relevant molecules in the atmosphere. These reactions in troposhpere have been described in detail in the discussion of photochemical smog problem. However, important features of main molecules affecting tropospheric ozone may be summarized as following:

1. Nitrogen oxides: Nitrogen gases help control OH concentrations in troposphere and concentrations of NO and NO2 are needed to form ozone. Since both molecules are active in ozone process, they are described by their conserved quantity, NOx. The rate of ozone production in troposphere seems to be controlled by NOx concentration. NOx acts as catalyst to photochemical reaction processes and provides the environment which allows further ozone formation or loss reactions in various chains. For example, in NOx-poor environment, oxidation of one methane molecule to carbon dioxide via CO results in net loss of about 3.5 H atoms and 1.7 ozone molecules. In NOx-rich environments, the same process will create about 0.5 H atoms and 3.7 ozone molecules. The transfer point between ozone loss and ozone production seems to an NO concentration of about 30.0 pptv. The efficiency of NOx in ozone-formation processes decreases with increasing NOx concentration. However, in terms of total production of ozone, this inefficiency is overcome in the atmosphere with higher NOx.

Main sink of NOx in atmosphere is conversion to nitric acid by OH. This sink acts within a time frame of 1 to 2 days and nitric acid during this time is either washed out of atmosphere or is removed by surface deposition. Another mechanism associated with lifetime of NO2 is the day-night cycle of its release and capture associated with N2O5. During night, NO2 and nitrate radical (NO3) combine in presence of some catalyst to form N2O5 which acts as a strong reservoir. During daytime, sunlight reverses the process and NO2 is released.

Associated with NOx and its impact on ozone are RO2 reactions which can lead to a wide variety of complex non-methane hydrocarbon reactions. Most well known byproduct of this process is PAN (peroxyacetyl nitrate) which acts as a reservoir for NOx in clean marine air. Its free tropospheric values tend to be in the 25-35 pptv range.

2. Carbon monoxide: In natural atmosphere, CO is created as byproduct of reactions sequence of oxidation of methane during photodissociation of HCHO. There is strong correlation between concentrations of CO and methane in troposphere. Average concentrations of CO are on the order of 30-200 ppbv and its lifetimes are relatively short (about 1-2 months) due mainly to reactions with OH. CO and ozone show positive relationship in areas of higher NOx where ozone is being created photochemically. However, in areas of ozone destruction, where NOx concentrations are less than 0.01 ppbv, CO concentrations are independent of ozone.

3. Methane and Non-methane hydrocarbons (MHC & NMHC): Methane is the most important and most abundant atmospheric hydrocarbon. Its lifetime in troposphere is about 5-10 years. Major sink of methane is its reaction with OH leading to the formation of ozone. Another sink is its gradual transfer to stratosphere through exchange processes across tropopause. Methane then acts as an important factor in strotospheric chemistry.

Non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHC) in atmosphere may also contribute to the formation of ozone. However, which species of NMHCs are important and in what amounts is yet not well established.

Major molecules associated with tropospheric ozone chemistry and their energy requirements are listed in Table- 4.

Table- 4. Energy requirements of some major molecules associated with tropospheric ozone chemistry.

Chemical species        Enthalpy of        Free-energy

                                 formation            of  reaction*

O(3P)                           59.6                  55.4

O(1P)                          104.8

O3                                34.1                   39.0

OH                                  9.3                     8.2

HO2                              ~3.4                    4.4

H2O2                          -32.6               -25.2

H2O                            -57.8               -54.6

N2O                              21.6                20.7

NO2                                7.9                12.3

CH4                            -17.9              -12.1

CO                               -26.4              -32.8

+RO2                             var.             var.

* energy needed to create or destroy chemical bonds. Positive numbers indicate energy must be added to create formation reaction.

+ Complex organic peroxy radicals

Ozone chemistry of stratosphere

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 ( 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.