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Concept: Ozone depletion


The U.S. health care sector is highly interconnected with industrial activities that emit much of the nation’s pollution to air, water, and soils. We estimate emissions directly and indirectly attributable to the health care sector, and potential harmful effects on public health. Negative environmental and public health outcomes were estimated through economic input-output life cycle assessment (EIOLCA) modeling using National Health Expenditures (NHE) for the decade 2003-2013 and compared to national totals. In 2013, the health care sector was also responsible for significant fractions of national air pollution emissions and impacts, including acid rain (12%), greenhouse gas emissions (10%), smog formation (10%) criteria air pollutants (9%), stratospheric ozone depletion (1%), and carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic air toxics (1-2%). The largest contributors to impacts are discussed from both the supply side (EIOLCA economic sectors) and demand side (NHE categories), as are trends over the study period. Health damages from these pollutants are estimated at 470,000 DALYs lost from pollution-related disease, or 405,000 DALYs when adjusted for recent shifts in power generation sector emissions. These indirect health burdens are commensurate with the 44,000-98,000 people who die in hospitals each year in the U.S. as a result of preventable medical errors, but are currently not attributed to our health system. Concerted efforts to improve environmental performance of health care could reduce expenditures directly through waste reduction and energy savings, and indirectly through reducing pollution burden on public health, and ought to be included in efforts to improve health care quality and safety.

Concepts: Health economics, Medicine, Ozone depletion, Smog, Air pollution, Greenhouse gas, Ozone, Acid rain


The increase in reports of novel diseases in a wide range of ecosystems, both terrestrial and marine, has been linked to many factors including exposure to novel pathogens and changes in the global climate. Prevalence of skin cancer in particular has been found to be increasing in humans, but has not been reported in wild fish before. Here we report extensive melanosis and melanoma (skin cancer) in wild populations of an iconic, commercially-important marine fish, the coral trout Plectropomus leopardus. The syndrome reported here has strong similarities to previous studies associated with UV induced melanomas in the well-established laboratory fish model Xiphophorus. Relatively high prevalence rates of this syndrome (15%) were recorded at two offshore sites in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP). In the absence of microbial pathogens and given the strong similarities to the UV-induced melanomas, we conclude that the likely cause was environmental exposure to UV radiation. Further studies are needed to establish the large scale distribution of the syndrome and confirm that the lesions reported here are the same as the melanoma in Xiphophorus, by assessing mutation of the EGFR gene, Xmrk. Furthermore, research on the potential links of this syndrome to increases in UV radiation from stratospheric ozone depletion needs to be completed.

Concepts: Cancer, Ultraviolet, Melanoma, Ozone depletion, Skin cancer, Sunburn, Sunscreen, Great Barrier Reef


It is well established that anthropogenic chlorine-containing chemicals contribute to ozone layer depletion. The successful implementation of the Montreal Protocol has led to reductions in the atmospheric concentration of many ozone-depleting gases, such as chlorofluorocarbons. As a consequence, stratospheric chlorine levels are declining and ozone is projected to return to levels observed pre-1980 later this century. However, recent observations show the atmospheric concentration of dichloromethane-an ozone-depleting gas not controlled by the Montreal Protocol-is increasing rapidly. Using atmospheric model simulations, we show that although currently modest, the impact of dichloromethane on ozone has increased markedly in recent years and if these increases continue into the future, the return of Antarctic ozone to pre-1980 levels could be substantially delayed. Sustained growth in dichloromethane would therefore offset some of the gains achieved by the Montreal Protocol, further delaying recovery of Earth’s ozone layer.

Concepts: Atmosphere, Chlorine, Ozone depletion, Ozone layer, Ozone, Chlorofluorocarbon, Montreal Protocol, Carbon tetrachloride


Industrial chlorofluorocarbons that cause ozone depletion have been phased out under the Montreal Protocol. A chemically-driven increase in polar ozone (or “healing”) is expected in response to this historic agreement. Observations and model calculations taken together indicate that the onset of healing of Antarctic ozone loss has now emerged in September. Fingerprints of September healing since 2000 are identified through (i) increases in ozone column amounts, (ii) changes in the vertical profile of ozone concentration, and (iii) decreases in the areal extent of the ozone hole. Along with chemistry, dynamical and temperature changes contribute to the healing, but could represent feedbacks to chemistry. Volcanic eruptions episodically interfere with healing, particularly during 2015 (when a record October ozone hole occurred following the Calbuco eruption).

Concepts: Ozone depletion, Greenhouse gas, Ozone layer, Ozone, Chlorofluorocarbon, Montreal Protocol, Carbon tetrachloride, Dichlorodifluoromethane


Injecting sulfate aerosol into the stratosphere, the most frequently analyzed proposal for solar geoengineering, may reduce some climate risks, but it would also entail new risks, including ozone loss and heating of the lower tropical stratosphere, which, in turn, would increase water vapor concentration causing additional ozone loss and surface warming. We propose a method for stratospheric aerosol climate modification that uses a solid aerosol composed of alkaline metal salts that will convert hydrogen halides and nitric and sulfuric acids into stable salts to enable stratospheric geoengineering while reducing or reversing ozone depletion. Rather than minimizing reactive effects by reducing surface area using high refractive index materials, this method tailors the chemical reactivity. Specifically, we calculate that injection of calcite (CaCO3) aerosol particles might reduce net radiative forcing while simultaneously increasing column ozone toward its preanthropogenic baseline. A radiative forcing of -1 W⋅m(-2), for example, might be achieved with a simultaneous 3.8% increase in column ozone using 2.1 Tg⋅y(-1) of 275-nm radius calcite aerosol. Moreover, the radiative heating of the lower stratosphere would be roughly 10-fold less than if that same radiative forcing had been produced using sulfate aerosol. Although solar geoengineering cannot substitute for emissions cuts, it may supplement them by reducing some of the risks of climate change. Further research on this and similar methods could lead to reductions in risks and improved efficacy of solar geoengineering methods.

Concepts: Water, Refractive index, Climate change, Ozone depletion, Sulfuric acid, Sulfate, Greenhouse gas, Global warming


Although Siberian Trap volcanism is considered a primary driver of the largest extinction in Earth history, the end-Permian crisis, the relationship between these events remains unclear. However, malformations in fossilized gymnosperm pollen from the extinction interval suggest biological stress coinciding with pulsed forest decline. These grains are hypothesized to have been caused by enhanced ultraviolet-B (UV-B) irradiation from volcanism-induced ozone shield deterioration. We tested this proposed mechanism by observing the effects of inferred end-Permian UV-B regimes on pollen development and reproductive success in living conifers. We find that pollen malformation frequencies increase fivefold under high UV-B intensities. Surprisingly, all trees survived but were sterilized under enhanced UV-B. These results support the hypothesis that heightened UV-B stress could have contributed not only to pollen malformation production but also to deforestation during Permian-Triassic crisis intervals. By reducing the fertility of several widespread gymnosperm lineages, pulsed ozone shield weakening could have induced repeated terrestrial biosphere destabilization and food web collapse without exerting a direct “kill” mechanism on land plants or animals. These findings challenge the paradigm that mass extinctions require kill mechanisms and suggest that modern conifer forests may be considerably more vulnerable to anthropogenic ozone layer depletion than expected.

Concepts: Oxygen, Plant, Earth, Sun, Ozone depletion, Extinction, Pinophyta, Dinosaur


Glacial-state greenhouse gas concentrations and Southern Hemisphere climate conditions persisted until ∼17.7 ka, when a nearly synchronous acceleration in deglaciation was recorded in paleoclimate proxies in large parts of the Southern Hemisphere, with many changes ascribed to a sudden poleward shift in the Southern Hemisphere westerlies and subsequent climate impacts. We used high-resolution chemical measurements in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide, Byrd, and other ice cores to document a unique, ∼192-y series of halogen-rich volcanic eruptions exactly at the start of accelerated deglaciation, with tephra identifying the nearby Mount Takahe volcano as the source. Extensive fallout from these massive eruptions has been found >2,800 km from Mount Takahe. Sulfur isotope anomalies and marked decreases in ice core bromine consistent with increased surface UV radiation indicate that the eruptions led to stratospheric ozone depletion. Rather than a highly improbable coincidence, circulation and climate changes extending from the Antarctic Peninsula to the subtropics-similar to those associated with modern stratospheric ozone depletion over Antarctica-plausibly link the Mount Takahe eruptions to the onset of accelerated Southern Hemisphere deglaciation ∼17.7 ka.

Concepts: Oxygen, Climate, Climate change, Ozone depletion, Antarctica, Greenhouse gas, Ice core, Ozone


In recent decades, the Arctic has been warming and sea ice disappearing. By contrast, the Southern Ocean around Antarctica has been (mainly) cooling and sea-ice extent growing. We argue here that interhemispheric asymmetries in the mean ocean circulation, with sinking in the northern North Atlantic and upwelling around Antarctica, strongly influence the sea-surface temperature (SST) response to anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) forcing, accelerating warming in the Arctic while delaying it in the Antarctic. Furthermore, while the amplitude of GHG forcing has been similar at the poles, significant ozone depletion only occurs over Antarctica. We suggest that the initial response of SST around Antarctica to ozone depletion is one of cooling and only later adds to the GHG-induced warming trend as upwelling of sub-surface warm water associated with stronger surface westerlies impacts surface properties. We organize our discussion around ‘climate response functions’ (CRFs), i.e. the response of the climate to ‘step’ changes in anthropogenic forcing in which GHG and/or ozone-hole forcing is abruptly turned on and the transient response of the climate revealed and studied. Convolutions of known or postulated GHG and ozone-hole forcing functions with their respective CRFs then yield the transient forced SST response (implied by linear response theory), providing a context for discussion of the differing warming/cooling trends in the Arctic and Antarctic. We speculate that the period through which we are now passing may be one in which the delayed warming of SST associated with GHG forcing around Antarctica is largely cancelled by the cooling effects associated with the ozone hole. By mid-century, however, ozone-hole effects may instead be adding to GHG warming around Antarctica but with diminished amplitude as the ozone hole heals. The Arctic, meanwhile, responding to GHG forcing but in a manner amplified by ocean heat transport, may continue to warm at an accelerating rate.

Concepts: Climate, Atlantic Ocean, Ozone depletion, Arctic Ocean, Antarctica, Greenhouse gas, Southern Ocean, Sea ice


The Montreal Protocol has succeeded in limiting major ozone-depleting substance emissions, and consequently stratospheric ozone concentrations are expected to recover this century. However, there is a large uncertainty in the rate of regional ozone recovery in the Northern Hemisphere. Here we identify a Eurasia-North America dipole mode in the total column ozone over the Northern Hemisphere, showing negative and positive total column ozone anomaly centres over Eurasia and North America, respectively. The positive trend of this mode explains an enhanced total column ozone decline over the Eurasian continent in the past three decades, which is closely related to the polar vortex shift towards Eurasia. Multiple chemistry-climate-model simulations indicate that the positive Eurasia-North America dipole trend in late winter is likely to continue in the near future. Our findings suggest that the anticipated ozone recovery in late winter will be sensitive not only to the ozone-depleting substance decline but also to the polar vortex changes, and could be substantially delayed in some regions of the Northern Hemisphere extratropics.

Concepts: Asia, Ozone depletion, South America, Ozone layer, Ozone, Eurasia, Chlorofluorocarbon, Montreal Protocol


Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a powerful greenhouse gas and the main driver of stratospheric ozone depletion. Since soils are the largest source of N2O, predicting soil response to changes in climate or land use is central to understanding and managing N2O. Here we find that N2O flux can be predicted by models incorporating soil nitrate concentration (NO3-), water content and temperature using a global field survey of N2O emissions and potential driving factors across a wide range of organic soils. N2O emissions increase with NO3-and follow a bell-shaped distribution with water content. Combining the two functions explains 72% of N2O emission from all organic soils. Above 5 mg NO3–N kg-1, either draining wet soils or irrigating well-drained soils increases N2O emission by orders of magnitude. As soil temperature together with NO3-explains 69% of N2O emission, tropical wetlands should be a priority for N2O management.

Concepts: Oxygen, Nitrogen, Ozone depletion, Nitrous oxide, Greenhouse gas, Ozone layer, Ozone, Chlorofluorocarbon