Climate change

Climate change: Smoke from wildfires is destroying the ozone layer, new study finds

However, the damage was temporary, and ozone levels returned to pre-wildfire levels as the smoke cleared from the stratosphere.

Smoke from wildfires, which have become a common occurrence around the world, can destroy the Earth’s ozone layer, a new study has found. The ozone shield in the Earth’s stratosphere absorbs ultraviolet rays from the sun.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo have warned that if climate change makes major fires more frequent, more harmful ultraviolet rays will hit the ground. They studied how smoke from the Australian wildfires of 2019 and 2020 destroyed atmospheric ozone in the southern hemisphere for several months.

Last summer’s wildfires in Yakutia, in Russia’s Siberia region, produced record carbon emissions, according to data from the European Union’s Copernicus satellite monitoring unit. Environmentalists fear such fires, sparked by warm weather, could melt permafrost and Siberian peatlands, releasing long-stored carbon into the frozen tundra.

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In the study published in the Science journal, researchers used satellite data from the Canadian Space Agency’s Atmospheric Chemistry Experiment to measure the impact of smoke particles in the stratosphere.

“The Australian fires injected acidic smoke particles into the stratosphere, disrupting the chlorine, hydrogen and nitrogen chemistry that regulates ozone,” said lead author Peter Bernath.

Bernath, a research professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Waterloo, added: “This is the first major measurement of smoke, which shows that it converts these ozone-regulating compounds into more reactive compounds that destroy ozone.

However, as with the holes over the polar regions, the damage was temporary, and ozone levels returned to pre-wildfire levels as the smoke cleared from the stratosphere. But the increased prevalence of wildfires could mean destruction is happening more frequently.

“The ACE (Atmospheric Chemistry Experiment) satellite is a unique mission with over 18 continuous years of atmospheric composition data. ACE measures a large collection of molecules to give a better and more complete picture of what is happening in our atmosphere,” Bernath said.

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“Models cannot yet replicate the chemistry of atmospheric smoke, so our measurements offer unique insight into chemistry never seen before.”