Strong Thunderstorms Damaging the Atmosphere - KMSP-TV

Strong Thunderstorms Damaging the Atmosphere

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It is a well-known fact that rain is a lifesaving product of the atmosphere. Everything on earth needs this wonderful commodity to survive. But recent studies have found that thunderstorms may actually be causing the earth just as much harm. The scientific community has long known that lightning creates ozone molecules. The ozone is basically the shield at the top of the atmosphere that keeps out harmful radiation produced by the sun. Creating more ozone means a stronger shield around the planet. But a group of NASA-funded scientists from Harvard learned that when powerful thunderstorms burst into the stratosphere, (only the most intense storms do that. Typically, if there is some sort of severe weather warning on a storm, it is likely topping out in the stratosphere) they provide the last few ingredients that CFCs need to destroy ozone: warm, moist air. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were mainly used in aerosol cans but most production of these CFCs was halted in the late 80's and early 90's after discovering that they deplete ozone. Unfortunately though, the damage has been done because these gases can circulate the globe for decades and continue to deplete ozone. Well ozone can't be harmed by these CFCs until sunlight breaks these molecules apart. This chemical reaction can't proceed if the temperature isn't right, and that "activation" temperature is also sensitive to humidity. If the air is wetter, the temperature must be higher for the reaction to occur. Summertime conditions in the lower stratosphere are usually warm and dry enough to suppress this reaction, but when thunderstorms add moisture to the stratosphere, ozone can be destroyed rapidly at the stratosphere's ambient temperature.

When scientists were collecting data, they found that thunderstorms were injecting water vapor into the atmosphere much more frequently than they had expected: about 50 percent of the time, and sometimes the moist-air remnants spread out over hundreds of miles and lingered for days. Both of these observations suggest that a single thunderstorm could destroy ozone molecules across an area much larger than itself for days. It is not yet known whether thunderstorms actually create enough ozone through lightning to offset the depletion from the excess moisture they create, but considering thunderstorms have likely been around since the atmosphere first developed several billion years ago, one can conclude that these phenomena cancel each other out. However, this is just a hypothesis so more research will be needed to find out for sure.

Some of the information and pictures in this article came from NASA and Earth Gauge.

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