For years, scientists theorized that a molecule called ClOOCl in the stratosphere played a key role in destroying ozone. Now, using measurements from a NASA aircraft laboratory flying over the Arctic, Harvard scientist Rick Stimpfle and colleagues observed the molecule for the first time. They report their discovery in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, published by the American Geophysical Union.
"We knew from observations dating from 1987, that the high ozone loss was linked with high [levels of] chlorine monoxide, but we had never actually detected the ClOOCl before," Stimpfle said in an interview. The common name atmospheric scientists use for ClOOCl, he said, is "chlorine dimer" - two identical chlorine-based molecules, ClO or chlorine monoxide and - bonded together. The rare dimer exists only in the particularly cold stratosphere over polar regions where chlorine monoxide levels are relatively high. "Most of the chlorine in the stratosphere," Stimpfle adds, "continues to come from human-induced sources."
ClOOCl triggers ozone destruction, he explains, in three basic steps:
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