Ozone layer draws attention

Extreme weather is directly related to the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere

Alexander Krasovsky, a candidate of physical and technical sciences and senior researcher at the National Scientific and Research Centre for Ozone Sphere Monitoring, within the Belarusian State University, is convinced that extreme weather is directly related to the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere. In constant motion, yesterday’s ‘hole’ can become a ‘thick pillow’, affecting the lower troposphere, where warm and cold air masses are formed, and where cyclones and anticyclones are born, causing abnormal weather: a hurricane in Minsk, breaking trees like matches; a storm in Rostov crashing a plane; or a flood in Poland.


Head of BSU’s laboratory, Alexander Svetashev, monitors ozone layer

The international community has already recognised that the ozone layer of the stratosphere is a vital climatic factor worldwide, absorbing solar emissions, and protecting life on Earth. The thinning of this layer, and the appearance of ozone holes, is an issue requiring consolidated effort.

Belarus has acceded to the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer but, rather than paying an annual fee in foreign currency, we are doing our part by conducting scientific investigation into the ozone layer: a mission performed by the BSU Centre. Research is being conducted not only in Belarus but in Antarctica, during seasonal Belarusian expeditions. Much information and knowledge has already been gathered.

“We believe that having a thick ozone layer is no better than having little,” says Alexander Krasovsky. “Recent hazardous weather in Minsk and other cities occurred despite there being quite a lot of ozone above us. We numerically simulated the infamous weather situation in Rostov, and found a large amount of ozone and tropopause (the transition layer between the troposphere and stratosphere); this literally ‘crushed’ the lower layers of air.”

He continues, “A low, unsteady jet stream appeared that hit a ‘Boeing’. We used to think that all weather was ‘cooked’ in the surface layer, while the stratosphere, with its ozone, was relatively stable. All weather models rested on the tropopause, and everything above was not taken into account. However, satellite monitoring and advanced computing technologies have changed our way of seeing things. At the Climate Assembly in New Zealand, in January 2014, it was clearly stated that the upper atmosphere cannot be ignored. The atmosphere is solid and, if there are changes, they occur through the entire depth. We’re now developing a mechanism to look at how the ozone affects regional weather conditions.”

Experts believe that binding of weather conditions to the ‘ozone picture’ is about timing. Ozone concentration in the surface layer, in the upper atmosphere, as well as ground-level UV radiation, is daily measured at the National Scientific and Research Centre for Ozone Sphere Monitoring at the BSU, using devices created there. For example, a unique instrument for measuring surface ozone, TrIO, provides benchmark data. The hydrometeoservice, which also monitors this parameter, periodically checks its data against that provided by TrIO. Accuracy is important, since this substance is among the six most dangerous to health. The fully authormated multifunctional PION-UF spectroradiometer, placed on the roof, is a complex geophysical instrument used in Antarctica. The latest photometer PION-F is established nearby, measuring the level of ultraviolet radiation and general ozone concentration. It’s completely autonomous and solar powered, transmitting data via Wi-Fi and mobile.

“Several years ago, we established a similar device at Naroch, and it showed us much of interest, including data proving that UV levels there are different from those in Minsk. Due to a more transparent atmosphere and water surface levels of sun exposure being higher, you’re more likely to tan there. Biologists have discovered that, if the amount of ultraviolet radiation increases, biological processes change in natural waters. Having asked us to help them with research, we’ve developed a device for measuring levels of ultraviolet rays in water. Data was collected from a number of lakes in Naroch and we found a significant amount of biologically active ultraviolet, at a depth of 15 metres.

PION-F is already installed in Gomel, and similar devices will soon appear across all regional centres, sending information to the BSU Centre. Like other countries, it can then pass this on to the World Ozone and Ultraviolet Radiation Data Centre. Maps reflecting the current situation in the ozone layer, over both hemispheres, are being created.

The Deputy Director of the Centre, candidate of physical and mathematical sciences, Alexander Svetashov, shows us his monitor: light areas are ozone holes, which migrate constantly. On June 25th, there was a ‘tongue’ that stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea, over Belarus. On another day, it moved eastwards. The thinner the layer, the more UV penetrates, causing not only sunburn but cataracts, lens opacity and melanomas. Meanwhile, dark areas of dense ozone can ‘crush’ the tropopause and cause extreme weather. The picture is ever changing.

The Centre is investigating these processes and can predict how the situation will develop, including calculation of the UV index. Such data shouldn’t be ignored. Long ago, WHO recognised that ultraviolet radiation can contribute to various diseases, especially now, when holidays in distant hot countries have become so popular. The UV index, which gives some indication of danger, denotes that a level of 0 to 2 requires no protection.  A level of 6-7 requires protective clothing, sunglasses and sunscreen, while 8-10 is dangerous, so that staying indoors is advised. Vietnam, so popular recently among tourists, showed an extreme index of 12 in July, while Greece was given a level of 10, and Spain of 9. Taking into account the ability of ultraviolet radiation to weaken the immune system, we should think twice about vacation destinations. High indices are sometimes registered in Belarus; at the end of June, the level was 8, while July had levels of between 3 and 7. You can monitor the situation at www.ozone.bsu.by.

By Yulia Vasilishina
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