New study from University of Colorado Boulder and Boulder researchers finds rising surface ozone in Antarctica

A new study coauthored by University of Colorado Boulder and Boulder researchers found that ozone pollution in Antarctica has been rising over the last three decades, raising concerns that it could have a “profound impact” on the climate of the region.

Three scientists from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provided ozone data from the South Pole research station for the study.

While the team often focuses on the upper atmosphere, or stratosphere, they were able to provide data from the lower atmosphere, or troposphere, which was used in the new study.

The study used data from eight research stations across Antarctica to determine that for over 26 years, from 1992 to 2018, surface ozone has been on the rise.

Though ozone in the upper atmosphere protects the earth from ultraviolet radiation, ozone in the lower atmosphere is an air pollutant that harms human health and the environment.

The study, led by Pankaj Kumar of the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, used modeling to find that the rise could be linked to human-caused pollution on nearby continents as well as moving from the upper atmosphere.

The information is notable because with its remote location, Antarctica has some of the cleanest air in the world, coauthor and NOAA scientist Bryan Johnson said.

“It’s so remote that you’re able to see what’s going on globally, as opposed to if you’re trying to determine what’s happening in the middle of a city, where it’s changing daily or seasonally based on conditions,” he said.

“This is something you want to monitor and apply statistical tools and analysis to to see how it’s changing, rather than have it be a big surprise down the line,” Johnson added.

The South Pole station sends small weather balloons, or sondes, from the ground up to 18 miles above the Earth to collect information about ozone levels.

“This is the very first study done at this remote location, so we’re very excited our data has been successfully used,” said coauthor and scientist Irina Petropavlovskikh, of CIRES. “We always look at our data day to day and are very focused on quality and seeing how instruments are performing, but looking at long-term changes like this is exactly what will help us understand how ozone levels are changing over Antarctica.”

The data could inform the team’s work on upper atmospheric ozone, Petropavlovskikh said.

“All these pieces, when they combine together, that’s how we learn about the past and then look to the future of the ozone burden,” she said.

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