The rapidly increasing destruction of plants and trees has grabbed my attention recently. Please bear with me while I try to figure out what is going on.
The Earth’s biosphere is in terrible shape. It is basically teetering on the edge of a cliff due to pollution, climate change, nuclear emissions, forest & habitat destruction etc. These latest two disasters are threatening to push it completely off the cliff.
Gail at Wit’s End has been a voice in the wilderness over the issue of plant destruction. She believes it is due to an increase in ground-level ozone that has been under way since 2008.
Note that this has nothing to do with the ozone hole in the upper atmosphere. Ozone is good up there, it blocks harmful UV rays, which otherwise lead to increased sunburn and skin cancer. The reason that ozone is declining up there is because of warming in the upper stratosphere. Fukushima could be contributing to this situation, with radioactive particles rising up there, giving off decay heat, and being warmed by sunshine.
Ozone is bad down here at the Earth’s surface, though. It is known to cause harm to plants. It also affects the human respiratory system, and that is why the weather service gives out ozone alerts, suggesting that susceptible people stay indoors. Indoor furnishings & carpets scavenge ozone from the air.
According to Wikipedia,
Low level ozone (or tropospheric ozone) is an atmospheric pollutant… It is not emitted directly by car engines or by industrial operations, but formed by the reaction of sunlight on air containing hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides that react to form ozone directly at the source of the pollution or many kilometers down wind… Ozone reacts directly with some hydrocarbons such as aldehydes and thus begins their removal from the air, but the products are themselves key components of smog. Ozone photolysis by UV light leads to production of the hydroxyl radical OH and this plays a part in the removal of hydrocarbons from the air, but is also the first step in the creation of components of smog such as peroxyacyl nitrates which can be powerful eye irritants. The atmospheric lifetime of tropospheric ozone is about 22 days; its main removal mechanisms are being deposited to the ground, the above mentioned reaction giving OH, and by reactions with OH and the peroxy radical HO2… There is evidence of significant reduction in agricultural yields because of increased ground-level ozone and pollution which interferes with photosynthesis and stunts overall growth of some plant species.
There are 3 possible reasons for the increase in ground-level ozone, over and above the ordinary activity of the toxic industrial society:
1. Passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which mandated increases in ethanol content of gasoline. This went into effect January 2008. Ethanol-powered vehicles generate more ozone than gasoline-powered vehicles (1) (2).
2. The BP oil spill, starting in April 2010, polluted the Gulf of Mexico with hydrocarbons. It apparently is still going on. Ozone is formed by sunlight acting on these hydrocarbons. If you are near the Gulf of Mexico, and can smell oil, and the sun is out, there is ozone. Peroxyacetyl nitrates (PANs) are also formed, which are stable and travel for long distances, which eventually break down into ozone by the action of sunlight. “PANs are both toxic and irritating, as they dissolve more readily in water than ozone. They are lachrymators, causing eye irritation at concentrations of only a few parts per billion. At higher concentrations they cause extensive damage to vegetation. Both PANs and their chlorinated derivates are said to be mutagenic, as they can be a factor causing skin cancer.” (Wikipedia)
3. Radioactive contamination of the Pacific Ocean from the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe. This commenced on March 11, 2011. The reasons for this are explained below.
Ozone is also produced by a photochemical reaction of UV light on nitrogen oxides. The sea off Japan is polluted with nitrates and nitrogen oxides.
It is important to understand that the photochemical reaction is initiated by any light which has wavelengths less than or equal to those of UV light. Gamma radiation has wavelengths less than one-thousandth of UV light. It also is much more energetic. When unthinkable amounts of radionuclides which emit gamma radiation are dumped into a sea which is polluted with nitrogen, what do you get? Ozone.
Ozone is also produced by photolysis of dissolved oxygen in the water. The photochemical reaction produces ozone directly. This is the same process in which ozone in the upper atmosphere is generated. Radiolysis (separation of water into hydrogen and oxygen by radiation) may also produce oxygen from which photolysis acts upon.
Also, from Wikipedia again, “Water subjected to ionizing radiation forms free radicals of hydrogen and hydroxyl, which can recombine to form gaseous hydrogen, oxygen, hydrogen peroxide, hydroxyl radicals, and peroxide radicals. In living organisms, which are composed mostly of water, majority of the damage is caused by the reactive oxygen species, free radicals produced from water. The free radicals attack the biomolecules forming structures within the cells, causing oxidative stress (a cumulative damage which may be significant enough to cause the cell death, or may cause DNA damage possibly leading to cancer).”
To be continued in the next post…