Ozone on the rise – suggests pollution controls aren’t ‘working as well as we thought’

In a first-ever study using ozone data collected by commercial aircraft, researchers from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder found that levels of the pollutant in the lowest part of Earth’s atmosphere have increased across the Northern Hemisphere over the past 20 years. That’s even as tighter controls on emissions of ozone precursors have lowered ground-level ozone in some places, including North America and Europe…

In an open-access study published August21 in the journal Science Advances, the team found an overall increase in ozone levels above the Northern Hemisphere.

Abstract

Tropospheric ozone is an important greenhouse gas, is detrimental to human health and crop and ecosystem productivity, and controls the oxidizing capacity of the troposphere. Because of its high spatial and temporal variability and limited observations, quantifying net tropospheric ozone changes across the Northern Hemisphere on time scales of two decades had not been possible. Here, we show, using newly available observations from an extensive commercial aircraft monitoring network, that tropospheric ozone has increased above 11 regions of the Northern Hemisphere since the mid-1990s, consistent with the OMI/MLS satellite product. The net result of shifting anthropogenic ozone precursor emissions has led to an increase of ozone and its radiative forcing above all 11 study regions of the Northern Hemisphere, despite NOx emission reductions at midlatitudes.

Map of the 11 study regions. The flight tracks are also indicated in the boxes with western North America in gray, eastern North America in green, Europe in blue, Northeast China/Korea in red, southeast United States in brown, northern South America in purple, Gulf of Guinea in salmon, the Persian Gulf in black, India in orange, Southeast Asia in cyan, and Malaysia/Indonesia in magenta.

“That’s a big deal because it means that as we try to limit our pollution locally, it might not work as well as we thought,” said Audrey Gaudel, a CIRES scientist working in the NOAA Chemical Sciences Laboratory and the study’s lead author…

In the so-called “lower troposphere,” which is closest to Earth’s surface, ozone has decreased above some mid-latitude regions, including Europe and the United States, where ozone precursor emissions have decreased.

The researchers found those reductions were offset by increases higher in the troposphere — with the net result being an overall ozone increase from the surface to 12 km… The model showed that increased emissions in the tropics were likely driving the observed increase of ozone in the Northern Hemisphere.

74 thoughts on “Ozone on the rise – suggests pollution controls aren’t ‘working as well as we thought’

  1. “ozone precursors” That would be Oxygen? I’m not sure that eliminating that from the troposphere would be prudent.

    • I would also look for a correlation between ozone and concentration of wind turbines. Having widely distributed generators operating in the atmosphere undoubtedly contributes to ozone production.

      If we were to go “all electric” in terms of cars, home heating and cooking, and mass transit, the contribution of corona discharge from transmission lines would likely contribute a significant amount of ozone in the lower troposphere.

      • Corona presence on transmission lines is a very small factor and does not vary with the amount of current flowing through these lines. Corona is a function of voltage and geometry. Ozone production from such sources is a function of voltage, corona-favoring geometry (smaller radius of curvature that causes higher electric field in the nearby air), higher voltage (which results in larger coronas), and the number of places where this happens. Power companies like to eliminate corona because that is a loss of electrical power that someone hast to pay for, and that power companies want to instead be restricted to getting past electric meters so that their customers get billed for it.

    • There is no such thing as a “green house” gas. They made that up for their junk science. No gas at any concentration can warm the atmosphere.

      The key to the above statements are that the upper tropical troposphere is -17 deg C and earth’s surface at 15 deg C. Now, any infrared radiation (IR) radiation emitted down by any gas in the atmosphere is by definition colder than the surface and thus will be reflected because the equivalent energy levels in the surface are full.

      Simple thermodynamics determines that a cool body (the troposphere) cannot warm a warm body (the surface). Particularly in the climate models, which do not have night-time in their designs, with 24/7 sunlight, the surface is always hotter than the air, which means that the air cannot heat the surface.

    • Me too. I also thought it was the air conditioners that were causing the hole and the hole was right over Kennebunkport ME?

    • Yes but Chinese companies has been massively flouting and in some instances scamming the agreement for payments which has been known for a decade. All that the report gives is some idea of level of the breaches.

    • You have to maintain a level of fear to maintain the level of donations. This level of ozone is too much; this level of ozone is too little’ this level of ozone is just right. Of course, for enything, we don’t actually know what is “just right” so this game can go on for ever.

    • Didn’t we discover that the hole was seasonal, ie natural variation and not CFC’s? Have we now moved on to new scary stuff. ?
      I’m sure as a child we were told that you could smell ozone at the beach in winter and this was a good thing – extra oxygen.
      The trouble is that you can’t believe anyone anymore.

  2. When we start integrating EV charging stations into the mix on a broad scale won’t it make this worse?

  3. Another “greenhouse” gas that is assumed/asserted/presumed to be progressive (i.e. monotonic) without progressive effects.

  4. “The net result of shifting anthropogenic ozone precursor emissions has led to an increase of ozone”

    Conveniently, no mention of increased natural ozone precursor emmissions (terpenes) from the increased greening of the N hemisphere over the past 2 decades.

    • I suspect this increase, if real, is mostly due to the increase in forested lands over the last 20 years.

    • We can’t rule out increased ethanol production and use either. Ethanol production is just as dirty as petroleum refining except it has many more point sources around the world since it is refined in smaller but more numerous refineries. It releases more VOCs though, which the science suggests is most often the local limiting factor in O3 creation, not NOx which the EPA likes to pretend.

      • Organic chemicals, Green, not green, lifestyles, are forcing the “greenhouse” effect and driving pollution.

      • Anyone visiting Rio or Sao Paulo the first time asks, what is that acrid odor and taste in the air? The answer is its acetaldehyde and acetic acid from incomplete ethanol combustion.

        In the U.S. we use catalytic converters and carbon traps to eliminate combustion and fugitive emissions. I’m not sure about ethanol production facilities and their emissions. Overall, the work boondoggle comes to mind.

        • Re: Rio – Sao Paulo – incomplete ethanol combustion.

          Before COVID, the USA was producing more than 1 million barrels a day of ethanol.

          I cannot find exact ethanol export statistics, but Brazil was our biggest ethanol customer in 2019!

    • They know very well about terpenes but the narrative is to blame most everything on humans. Your hypothesis seems reasonable, and certainly there must be at least some contribution from terpenes.

      I’ve done a minor amount of work in this area and not only do terpenes, such as a-pinene, lead to ozone formation, they also lead to aerosols from direct reaction with ozone. The chemistry can be complex because of the role of sunlight, temperature, humidity, etc. and the fact that reaction products are often reactive and reactants can be recycled catalytically. There are even weather events that can bring stratospheric ozone down into the troposphere.

    • Icis
      You beat me by mentioning greening of the Earth before I woke up. Good idea.

      I would like to add the outsourcing of manufacturing to China, India, Vietnam and other Asian natoons, from the US, EU, etc.

      The economic growth there has been accompanied by a lot of air pollution, especially in urban areas, and that could increase the global ozone level.

      If that’s not a cause, then I blame man made
      CO2, which can do everyhing bad, and nothing good.

  5. In the so-called “lower troposphere,” which is closest to Earth’s surface, ozone has decreased above some mid-latitude regions, including Europe and the United States, where ozone precursor emissions have decreased.

    The researchers found those reductions were offset by increases higher in the troposphere …

    OK then … the ozone in the higher troposphere doesn’t really have detrimental effects on anything, does it? So, it’s not pollution then, is it? So we don’t have to worry about it, do we?

    • It’s generally not good for plants or animals as it reacts with living tissue. It’s especially bad for asthmatics or those with various lung conditions. It’s not good for rubber either as it makes it cracked and brittle.

      If you have a slingshot with gum rubber bands, eventually ozone (and oxygen to a lesser degree) will cause the bands to fail.

      • All true, but unaffected by increases in the higher troposphere. As far as I can tell, they didn’t find an increase of ozone at ground level. If I interpret it correctly, they found a decrease in ozone at ground level.

        • Yes, reductions in the lower Troposphere (where we live) were “offset” by increases way up where we don’t live and aren’t affected by any of the negatives of ozone. Not very worrisome, nor newsworthy to me.

          Now, if instead, they had studied the effects of the mining for cobalt and rare earths on the atmosphere and local environments around the world, and found that emissions have decreased here in the US but are “offset” by huge amounts of pollution in Africa and Asia I would be shocked, shocked! and get behind their demand that something be done about it right pronto… Anyone come across that study yet?

    • Indeed. I seem to remember that ozone blocks UV light and is good. And that humans are bad for using deodorant sprays and refrigerators that deplete ozone. Oops! Guess humans are bad whether they increase or decrease ozone.

  6. “Ozone on the rise – suggests pollution controls aren’t ‘working as well as we thought’”

    Suggests that pollution and the control thereof has nothing to do with atmospheric ozone.

  7. Of course, there is always the possibility that the Montreal Protocols have forced the ozone to lower altitudes.

    • The Montreal Protocol has intent of *increasing* (or recovering previously known amount of presence) ozone in the stratosphere. This means decreasing UV in the lower troposphere, but only at wavelengths about or shorter than 300 nm. Stratospheric ozone has little or negligible effect on UV wavelengths longer than about 315-320 nm.

      (Now, I need to Google for what wavelengths of UV are most responsible for contributing to lower tropospheric ozone / “smog ozone”, in combination with nitrogen oxides and organic vapors/gases.) I have already found some mention that UVA and more likely some subset of UVA (UV-A), typically defined as 315-400 nm, is responsible for photolysis of NO2 nitrogen dioxide (the main air pollutant nirogen oxide) that results in “nascent oxygen” “atomic oxygen” airborne oxygen atoms that are not part of O2 molecules and much more chemically reactive than O2 molecules. These uncoupled oxygen atoms combine with usual O2 molecules to form molecules of O3, ozone, although gaseous/vapor organic compounds are a catalyst that helps this happen.

  8. So is it enough to fix the “ozone hole” ? or too much ? or worse than we thought ? What caused these increased emissions in the tropics ? Numbers ? Or are there just more “ozone precursors” in common aircraft routes over 20 years of increased air traffic ?

    • What I think caused this increase: Increase of population, and increase of the relevant population in doing things that increase emissions of precursors of lower tropospheric ozone. Such as driving motor vehicles that use fossil fuels, possibly with many of them being fueled by gasoline pumps that don’t have vapor recovery. There is the matter that most aircraft emit ozone precursors, although this factor is probably small and increase of air traffic is probably a small factor.

      Air temperature increase from global warming is making this worse, but to an extent that I expect to usually be overstated.

    • Maybe climastrology data can be collected in the present, and with some chicken bones you can ask that data to extrapolate more data from itself through time. You just need the right seance.

      The POTUS should turn around and use this study to claim that the Obama CAFE standards aren’t working, and therefore can be undone. Pickup trucks (and other vehicle types affected by the bizarre size/mileage standards) could revert back to their original sizes instead of these bloated whales, and diesel cars could go back to emitting reasonable amounts of NOx and improve their mileage significantly.

    • To DMacKenzie

      “THE MODEL (of course) showed that increased ANTHROPOGENIC (of course) emissions in the tropics were likely driving the observed increase of ozone in the Northern Hemisphere”.

      To MarkW

      From the Science Daily article:

      So the researchers turned to aircraft data from Europe’s In-Service Aircraft for the Global Observing System (IAGOS) program. “Since 1994, IAGOS has measured ozone worldwide using the same instrument on every plane, giving us consistent measurements over time and space from Earth’s surface to the upper troposphere,” Gaudel said. Between 1994 and 2016, commercial aircraft captured 34,600 ozone profiles, or about four profiles each day.

      Gaudel and her colleagues used these measurements to calculate changes in tropospheric ozone from the mid-1990s to 2016 above 11 regions in the Northern Hemisphere.

  9. Maybe those are NOT “pollution controls” to begin with. Just asking for proof that they are.

  10. Missing from the above article and the embedded abstract of the CIRES study article is HOW MUCH did the ozone increase? Let’s talk quantitatively here.

    “In the troposphere near the Earth’s surface, the natural concentration of ozone is about 10 parts per billion (0.000001 percent).”—source: https://ozonewatch.gsfc.nasa.gov/facts/SH.html#:~:text=That%20may%20seem%20like%20a,per%20million%20(0.0015%20percent).

    Did the CIRES study find an increase of, say, 0.1 ppb out of 10 ppb (in which case I ain’t worried) or is it something like 1 ppb out of 10 ppb (in which case I’m worried only slightly more)?

    And then there is this: “. . . upper stratospheric ozone has increased since 2000 by 1‒3% per decade outside the polar regions.”—source: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40828-019-0082-7#:~:text=The%20Montreal%20Protocol%20and%20its%20subsequent%20Amendments%20and%20adjustments%20have,decade%20outside%20the%20polar%20regions. (see “Conclusions” section). Ozone is naturally produced in the stratosphere by solar ultraviolet radiation.

    So, did the CIRES researchers take this fact into account and “normalize” the tropospheric ozone levels for possible increased diffusion/convection infiltration of increased ozone in the stratosphere?

    As it stands right now, I’ll mark the CIRES study conclusion, as per headline of above article, as “alarmist”.

  11. The major ozone precursor we are controlling from power plants is NOx. There has been a dramatic reduction in NOx emissions since SCRs (Selective Catalytic Reactors) began to the added to new and existing coal units and new gas units. So it looks like NOx emissions are not the control knob we thought it was. Hmmm…sound familiar?

  12. Hmmmm…. Mesured by high altitude aircraft that follow the same routes, day after day. How much ozone is produced in/by aircraft exhaust?

  13. I thought the concern about ozone was its depletion rather than accretion (we were all going to die of an increase in UV energy due to the ozone ‘hole’). It’s now described as a pollutant. What did I miss?

  14. Ohhhh Nooooooes! Now oxygen is trying to kill us!
    The Climate Chicken Little’s Mantra: “It’s all bad…. and getting worse.”

    To all the Chicken Littles out there: This is interesting new data. We don’t know what it means yet. As O3 is a ‘potent’ ultraviolet radiation absorber (dissociating O3 +UV —> O2 +O), it may provide some beneficial effects in lower ‘sun burns’ and skin cancers over time.
    Try to control your automatic negative thoughts, irrational fears, and megaphone mouths, please! How about accentuating the positive, for a climate change?

    Ella Fitzgerald – Accentuate The Positive
    [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJI7kc6s0l4&w=560&h=315%5D

  15. Sounds like there are more important variables that they need to discover and quantify. The model appears to be incomplete, or there is a big hole in their data.

  16. Of course it’s rising – the stuff that gets rid of it is disappearing.

    That ‘stuff’ being volatile organics produced by (mostly perennial) plants.
    That is their smell/scent. It’s why they make it, to scavenge low level ozone before it attacks them.

    Annual plants (wheat, corn, rice etc) don’t create any where near the ‘stink’ that a coniferous forest does.
    Because it takes a lot of energy and ‘resource’ to make those scents – annual plants simply haven’t got the time and in any case, are h3ll bent on producing a many viable seeds as they can.

    The rise in low level ozone will track the decline of the perennials and correspond perfectly to the rise of CO2

    It’s called Soil Erosion and it will trash our civilisation as surely as it trashed *every* previous attempt at same

    No, Climate Change did not wipe them all out. They destroyed the plants first and *that* changed The Climate
    Exactly as is happening now and this story is just one more little piece to the jigsaw
    The ongoing misadventure of the 3 Gorges dam is another. The Yellow River was previously the ‘Great River’ (rough translation of Mississippi if I’m not wrong) an was renamed because of ’tillage’.
    i.e Intensive farming.
    The flooding rains (and yellow colour) are caused by rapid run-off from eroded farmland -not Climate Change

  17. Yawn.

    1 – pick a natural substance
    2 – measure it
    3 – claim that it’s increasing/decreasing/dangerously static
    4 – ?
    5 – profit

    (where ? = apply for a grant)

    Actually, it’s worse than that. These are not entrepreneurs looking for a profit. They are a bureaucracy of researchers whose mortgages, careers and families depend on those grants. So they will fight very hard for them, and won’t go away when you make it less profitable…

    • Pretty much. CIRES benefits are pretty good too (I bet), e.g. 2 for 1 match for 401K contributions. Very inexpensive (<$100/month) healthcare within the University of Colorado system. More and higher levels of vacation and sick days than one finds in most private sector jobs. etc.

      Since early March, virtually all CIRES personnel have been "working" remotely. I suppose with campus opening this week a few more will have to make a bodily appearance to fight for climate justice.

  18. These guys have got the message to pound out the BS to keep focusing on a crisis by 2030. They don’t seem to get a message for themselves in this ‘worse than we thought’ chorus across all climate topics that all their efforts have really been to no avail.

    Ya see, this is data that tells you your climate theory is completely wrong. It’s a rain dance. Maybe shutting industry down for 7 months was negative for the environment. Maybe windmill generators and solar panels operating from zero to too much every day, with nat gas gens spinning up and down, blackouts, charging California EVs… makes a lot of ozone.

  19. In the so-called “lower troposphere,” which is closest to Earth’s surface, ozone has decreased above some mid-latitude regions, including Europe and the United States, where ozone precursor emissions have decreased.

    The researchers found those reductions were offset by increases higher in the troposphere — with the net result being an overall ozone increase from the surface to 12 km… The model showed that increased emissions in the tropics were likely driving the observed increase of ozone in the Northern Hemisphere.

    This is a nonsensical two paragraphs.
    1. The amount of ozone in the lower troposphere has decreased – offset by increases higher in the troposphere – OK. However, ‘ with the net result being an overall ozone increase from the surface to 12 km is untrue the result cannot be an increase at the surface; the result was lower ozone at the surface and an increase in the higher troposphere. Averaging these ozone amounts at the different levels is incorrect.
    2. Increased emissions in the tropics were driving the increase in the Northern Hemisphere. So the source cannot be industry or other controlled emission sources. The increased emissions appear to be botanical or from the measuring aircraft themselves.

    The metrics may be distorted by the aircraft with measuring equipment flying in the exhaust plumes of the aircraft ahead on the same fixed route. At high altitude at and above the tropopause the UV strength may be sufficient to convert precursors to O3.

    As a verification the team should do some balloon ascent ozone measurements in areas where there are no busy aircraft routes within say 100 miles upwind of the balloon launch site

    • Good points, Ian,

      Since passenger jets travel along specific routes, it would be reasonable to assume that those routes could have O3 levels which are not representative of the atmosphere as a whole. Vertically, these routes are roughly between 6,000 and 12,000 meters above sea level.

  20. What about biological plausibility? This is required before a large population epidemiological study can prove causality. A double blind clinical study like the human tests performed by the Obama EPA do determine biological plausibility and they determined that there was no correlation between air pollution, including ozone and Asthma or other adverse health outcomes.

  21. According to Spaceweather.com GCM radiation is at its highest level since the start of the space age. Could ionisation caused by GCM radiation be the cause of increased ozone levels high in the earth’s atmosphere?

  22. Any media edict including the word “than we thought” means a power grab.

    Pretending to be curious when they have not one atom of genuine curiosity, only insatiable hunger for power.

  23. Please show us data collected 20 years ago by the same methodology, so an actual real comparison can be made.

    Oh wait.. this is the “first ever”

    So they have nothing to actually compare it to.

  24. “…’That’s a big deal because it means that as we try to limit our pollution locally, it might not work as well as we thought,’ said Audrey Gaudel, a CIRES scientist working in the NOAA Chemical Sciences Laboratory and the study’s lead author…”

    Ummm…who is this “we” who “thought” something so inane?

  25. 1) Yes, Ozone is bad for us, it’s also bad for bacteria so it’s used for disinfecting.

    2) Some electric motors produce Ozone with brushes sparking. Are they going to ban motors using brushes and promote brushless motors?

    3) I thought they wanted to increase the thickness of the ozone layer. We just have to wait for these to be hit with UV rays or float upto the ozone layer to return the O2.

    4) So where does the Ozone molecules close to the ground come from?

    • Have you worked in a computer manufacturing clean room? It is flooded with ozone. You can smell it.

  26. I would also look for a correlation between ozone and concentration of wind turbines. Having widely distributed generators operating in the atmosphere undoubtedly contributes to ozone production.

    If we were to go “all electric” in terms of cars, home heating and cooking, and mass transit, the contribution of corona discharge from transmission lines would likely contribute a significant amount of ozone in the lower troposphere.

  27. The abstract states:
    “Here, we show, using newly available observations from an extensive commercial aircraft monitoring network, that tropospheric ozone has increased above 11 regions of the Northern Hemisphere since the mid-1990s, consistent with the OMI/MLS satellite product.”

    If this data is unique, to what past data are they comparing it?

    This data could be called a new baseline. Comparing this new data to previous data which was collected using different methods sound to me like comparing apples and oranges.

  28. ozone is o3 an UNstable molecule of oxygen that forms when oxygen is heated, it doesnt last long because it is UNstable and breaks up all on its own…..calling ozone “pollution” is utter insanity.

  29. I am surprised that members of the alarmist crowd did not use this info to suggest we are having more violent weather, thus more lightning produced ozone, when it strikes O2 molecules. Sometimes there is that feint, pleasant smell after a storm.

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