Among mid-latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, including areas over Australia and New Zealand, as well as portions of Africa and South America, the study, which was published in the journal Nature, examined the chemical makeup of the atmosphere.
Scientists discovered that the smoke from wildfires caused chemical reactions in the stratosphere. According to their calculations, the mega fire contributed to a 3% to 5% ozone depletion in the study area.
In addition, the study model predicted that the wildfires had an effect on the ozone layer above Antarctica, causing it to thin by 2.5 million square kilometers by the end of 2020, or by 10% more than it had by 2019.
According to a statement from Susan Solomon, research author and professor of environmental studies at M.I.T., the Australian fires of 2020 were actually a wake-up call for the scientific community. Prior ozone recovery forecasts did not take into account the impact of wildfires. And I believe that outcome could be affected by whether or not flames increase in frequency and intensity as the earth warms.
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According to M.I.T: the flames examined in the study burned tens of millions of acres and released one million tonnes of smoke into the atmosphere, making them the worst ever documented in Australia.
Previous research by Solomon and her coworkers showed that fire aerosols and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which include chlorine, might combine chemically to form chlorine monoxide, which is known to deplete ozone. After the massive fire in Australia, the researchers returned to examine chemicals in the stratosphere.
The team discovered that wildfire smoke reactions with hydrochloric acid (HCl) in the stratosphere could deplete ozone, but they also believe that wildfire smoke may react with other chlorine-containing substances in the atmosphere, especially given how long the smoke particles can linger in the atmosphere.
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So, Solomon added, it’s kind of a race against time. Before flames become more common due to climate change, maybe chlorine-containing chemicals will have been eliminated. This makes it even more important to be cautious when it comes to these chlorine-containing compounds and global warming.
The ozone layer was on course to recover by 2045 over the Arctic, by 2066 over the Antarctic, and by 2040 for the rest of the planet, according to a report from the United Nations published at the beginning of 2023.
This recovery was caused by a ban on ozone-depleting chemicals. Yet given that the number of wildfires is predicted to rise by 50% by 2100, the new research raises questions about wildfire smoke and its connection to ozone depletion.
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Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Solomon and Kane Stone, worked with Colorado State University, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Institute for Environmental and Climate Research in Guangzhou, China, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in the United States to conduct the study.