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Storms threaten ozone layer over U.S., study says

Scientists have recently found a possible link between climate change and depletion of the ozone layer. The two issues have historically been treated independent of one another, although they are often confused by the general public. As the climate warms, increased evaporation leads to more water vapor in the atmosphere, which can result in stronger and more frequent intense thunderstorms. In most cases, updrafts from these storms are stopped at the tropopause, but if there is enough energy, the updraft may have enough momentum for the storm to grow well into the stratosphere. These storms effectively “inject” large quantities of water vapor into the stratosphere, which raises the air temperature in its vicinity. This allows for a chemical shift of CFCs still in the atmosphere, making them more reactive with the ozone. Although CFCs have been banned since the Montreal Protocol in 1987, it will take decades before these chemicals are fully removed from the atmosphere. By increasing the frequency of these intense storm events, climate change has the potential to exacerbate this process and accelerate ozone loss in the midlatitudes. Although depletion of the ozone layer has historically been most severe at the poles, these areas are not populated. If this occurs over more populated mid-latitude regions, it could result in serious health effects, such as an increase in the rate of skin cancer from increased UV exposure. Although this particular study was conducted in the U.S., it is believed that similar conditions exist in other mid-latitude regions. However, scientists are still admittedly uncertain of exactly what the effect of climate change will be on the development of these intense convective storms.

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