Environment of Earth

September 16, 2009


Filed under: Atmospheric chemistry — gargpk @ 2:40 pm
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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.


Filed under: Atmospheric chemistry — gargpk @ 2:35 pm
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N2O which is relatively stable in the troposphere, usually moves into stratosphere and undergoes following photochemical reactions:

N2O + hv (<260 nm) ————–> N2 + O(1D)

N2O + O(1D) ———-> N2 + O2

N2O + O(1D) ———-> 2NO

NO or NO2 which may also move from troposhpere into stratosphere or are produced in the stratosphere, undergo following reactions there:

NO + O + M ——> NO2 + M

NO2 + OH + M —–> HNO3 + M

HNO3 + hv (<330 nm) ——> OH + NO2

 Ozone layer in stratosphere absorbs sufficient amount of UV radiation so that at tropopause HNO3 has photochemical lifetime of about 10 days. This time is long enough for much of it to cross the tropopause and come down with rainfall thus being removed from stratosphere.


Filed under: Atmospheric chemistry — gargpk @ 2:30 pm
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Chief natural source of chlorine in atmosphere is probably methyl chloride from marine algae but it accounts for only 25% of the chlorine currently being transported across tropopause into the stratosphere. Other natural sources adding minor amounts are HCl acid from volcanoes and chlorine from sea sprays. In the past few decades, chlorofluorocarbons (mostly CFCl3 i.e. Feron-11) and CF2Cl2 i.e. Feron-12) added to the atmosphere by human activities have become chief source of stratospheric chlorine. Ammonium perchlorate-aluminium solid rocket propellents are another anthropogenic source of atmospheric chlorine. These compounds absorb UV radiation in the range of 190 to 220 nm resulting in their photodissociation:

CH3Cl + hv —–> CH3 + Cl

CFCl3 + hv ——> CFCl2 + Cl

CF2Cl2 + hv —–> CF2Cl + Cl

Free Cl atoms in stratosphere may undergo various reaction cycles:

1. Reaction with ozone: Free chlorine atoms in stratosphere react with ozone in catalytic manner and cause depletion of ozone:

Cl + O3 —–> ClO + O2

ClO produced may react with nitrogen compounds:

ClO + NO —–> Cl + NO2

ClO + NO2 + M ——–> ClNO3 + M

ClNO3 may be decomposed by UV radiation or by reaction with atomic oxygen:

ClNO3 + hv —–> ClO + NO2

ClNO3 + O —-> O2 + ClO + NO

Reactions of ClO with NO or NO2 are important because they effectively remove N- and Cl- species involved in ozone destroying cycles.

2. Reaction with methane and hydrogen: Free Cl may also react with CH4 or H2:

Cl + CH4 —–> HCl + CH3

Cl + H2 ——> HCl + H

Some of the HCl may react with OH radical in stratosphere:

OH + HCl —–> H2O + Cl

However, most of the HCl moves down to tropopause and is removed with rainfall as HCl acid.