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Thursday, Nov. 11, 2004

More study of climate change needed: scientist


Staff writer

Studying the ozone layer is essential to curbing global warming, says a U.S scientist who has just been awarded the 2004 Blue Planet Prize.

News photo
Susan Solomon

The ozone holes around the globe have been widely researched in past decades, and the international community has responded by reducing the production and consumption of chlorofluorocarbons that destroy the life-protecting layer.

Still, it is important to research the layer to understand the whole mechanism of climate change, as the Earth's temperatures may change when the ozone holes, which have a cooling effect, close as expected, said Susan Solomon, senior scientist at the Aeronomy Laboratory of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"We stopped (emitting) chlorofluorocarbons, but we will continue to (emit other) greenhouse gases, probably," Solomon told The Japan Times. "How the two processes will jointly to some extent control the climate of the future is a very interesting question."

Although temperatures are rising due to global warming, Solomon's recent research has shown that the temperature on the surface and in the stratosphere over Antarctica is declining. This phenomena, she said, is linked to the cooling effect of the ozone hole above the continent.

Solomon was awarded the Blue Planet Prize on Wednesday, along with former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, for her pioneering work in identifying the mechanism that produces the Antarctic ozone hole and her contributions toward protecting the ozone layer. The prize is awarded annually by the Asahi Glass Foundation to honor individuals or organizations who make significant contributions to countering global environmental problems.

Solomon was the researcher who put forth a new theory on the mechanism behind how ozone holes are created. The issue started drawing international attention in the 1970s.

The ozone protects the Earth's surface from the sun's ultraviolet rays. Its depletion has raised various health threats, such as skin cancer.

After a huge ozone hole was found over Antarctica in the mid-1980s, Solomon led an expedition there to research it.

The results led to identifying the process of ozone depletion, in which Antarctica's extreme cold and the high levels of atmospheric chlorine brought on by human use of CFCs combine to rapidly deplete the protective gas. Her studies provided a basis for amending the Montreal Protocol, which curbed the production and consumption of CFCs and in 1990 phased in a global ban.

"It's been a real scientific service to the world. We were able to provide enough information to guide this process in (a) responsible way," Solomon said, adding that policymakers and the public also played great roles in reaching the accord on banning CFCs.

In the last few years, CFCs in the atmosphere have stabilized since people have stopped using them, she said.

"It's been quite impressive that the industry and people around the world have been very effective at stopping the emission of the ozone-depleting gases, in contrast with the early years when more and more chlorofluorocarbons were made every year," she said.

But she noted that it will take another 40 to 50 years before the ozone layer recovers, because it takes a long time for CFCs in the atmosphere to be broken down by sunlight.

To avoid increasing the amount of CFCs in the stratosphere, Solomon suggested that people who have refrigerators made before the mid-1990s replace them with new ones before the old ones break and leak their gases into the air.

Solomon, who also cochairs a working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that provides scientific information to the U.N., said she is trying to present information to the panel so the world can realize the risk of climate change and make the right decisions.

"We have lots of complex issues that we are dealing with, tremendous challenges of not only the environment but also politics and cultures and all of that," she said. "I think science is more valuable today than ever . . . because it's the only thing that will help lead us forward in an objective, truthful way."



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