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Ozone-oxygen cycle

  The ozone-oxygen cycle is the process by which ozone is continually regenerated in Earth's stratosphere, all the while converting ultraviolet radiation into heat energy. In 1930 Sydney Chapman resolved the chemistry involved.

How the ozone layer works

The ozone molecules formed by the above reaction absorb ultraviolet radiation having wavelengths between 240 and 310 nm. The triatomic ozone molecule becomes diatomic molecular oxygen plus a free oxygen atom:

O3 + (240nm < radiation < 310 nm) → O2 + O

The atomic oxygen produced immediately reacts with other oxygen molecules to reform ozone:

O2 + O + M → O3 + M

where "M" once again denotes the third body that carries off the excess energy of the reaction. In this way, the chemical energy released when O and O2 combine is converted into kinetic energy of molecular motion. The overall effect is to convert penetrating UV light into heat, without any net loss of ozone. This cycle keeps the ozone layer in a stable balance while protecting the lower atmosphere from UV radiation, which is harmful to most living beings. It is also one of two major sources of heat in the stratosphere (the other being the kinetic energy released when O2 is photolyzed into O atoms).


If an oxygen atom and an ozone molecule meet, they recombine to form two oxygen molecules:

O3 + O → 2 O2

The overall amount of ozone in the stratosphere is determined by a balance between production by solar radiation, and removal by recombination. The removal rate is slow, since the concentration of O atoms is very low.

Certain free radicals, the most important being hydroxyl (OH), nitric oxide (NO), and atoms of chlorine (Cl) and bromine (Br), catalyze the recombination reaction, leading to an ozone layer that is thinner than it would be if the catalysts were not present.

Most of the OH and NO are naturally present in the stratosphere, but human activity, especially emissions of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and halons, has greatly increased the Cl and Br concentrations, leading to ozone depletion. Each Cl or Br atom can catalyze tens of thousands of decomposition reactions before it is removed from the stratosphere.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Ozone-oxygen_cycle". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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