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How Southern Ocean is being heated by air pollution

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Researchers have discovered that a lesser-known type of ozone is responsible for heating the Southern Ocean. This cooling system is one of the most important on Earth.

Ozone is composed of three oxygen-atoms. Numerous studies have shown that ozone is present in the stratosphere and plays a significant role in protecting people from ultraviolet radiation. Ozone can be harmful to people at ground level in the troposphere.

Researchers at the University of California-Riverside discovered that lower levels of ozone are adding heat to the Southern Ocean, more than previously thought.

“People haven’t paid much attention to tropospheric oxygen in terms of ocean heat absorbtion in the past. According to our models, they should,” stated Wei Liu (climate scientist at the university), lead author. The journal Nature Climate Change published the findings.

When humans burn fossil fuels, the majority of carbon and heat enters the atmosphere through the use of fossil fuels, the oceans reduce it.

The Southern Ocean (also known as the Antarctic Ocean) collects about a third of the excess carbon in the atmosphere and around 75% of the excess heat from the oceans.

This heating can be controlled if we understand it. Increased ocean heating is contributing to the well-known issues of sea level rising.

Liu, along with a international team of scientists, explored climate model simulations incorporating changes in ozone between 1955-2000 to help further our understanding.

These simulations allowed them to isolate tropospheric and stratospheric Ozone from other influences on Southern Ocean temperature.

The team discovered that both tropospheric as well as stratospheric Ozone contribute to the Southern Ocean’s warming. However, the former contributes more.

“Ozone has been responsible for about a third (or so) of the ocean’s warming in the past. Liu explained that 40% is from the stratosphere while the rest is the troposphere.

Liu believes that the results of the study can be used to show where people can make additional changes to improve the environment.

Volatile organic compound, or VOCs from products such as pesticides, tobacco smoke, and automobiles are gases that form the building blocks to tropospheric Ozone. The same holds true for nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide, which are produced by combustion. Many of these products are capable of being modified to produce less VOCs.

Liu said that tropospheric oxygen is an air pollution. “Reducing our production of this will result in less air pollution and, most likely, less Southern Ocean heating.”

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