There is bad news in the air: NASA scientists have found the highest-ever levels of ozone-destroying chemicals over the Northern Hemisphere, building up much faster than expected. These scientists were so worried by their findings that they released preliminary results before all the data is in and analyzed. And while NASA's Michael J. Kurylo said scientists are "trying to avoid calling the problems in the northern hemisphere an ozone hole," it now appears that this could happen sooner rather than later.
If that seems scary, it ought to. The 120 scientists scientists, working out of six universities, NASA and two national laboratories, have used the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, balloon observations and converted spy-plane flights to get alarming results: 60 times the normal measurements of chlorine oxide over major cities in Northern Europe and Asia. Over U.S. cities, the chemical, both harbinger and agent of the destruction of ozone, was 15 times the normal concentration.
What is happening is that pollutants, primarily chlorofluorocarbons and halons -- chemicals containing bromine -- are percolating up through the atmosphere at an accelerating rate even as humans on the ground debate phasing them out. The eruption of Mount Pintaubo in the Philippines, a natural disaster, has exacerbated the problem. The volcano has dumped unexpected concentrations of sulfur oxides into the mix, scrubbing out oxides of nitrogen that normally act to protect against the stripping of the ozone layer.