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Flying into ozone hole.

Flying into an ozone hole

Atmospheric scientists will be getting their first close look at the Antarctic ozone "hole' when they fly right through it later this month using two specially equipped airplanes. Those involved in this Airborne Antarctic Ozone Experiment say the experiment will help identify the causes of the dramatic loss of ozone in the stratosphere above Antarctica--an event that has recurred each Antarctic springtime since the mid 1970s (SN: 5/23/87, p.326). Scientists are concerned that this phenomenon might portend the global loss of ozone, which shields life on earth from the sun's harmful ultraviolet radiation.

More than 100 international scientists will convene near the southern tip of South America in Punta Arenas, Chile, to participate in the upcoming program. NASA, which is managing the experiment, plans to fly 10 missions each with an ER-2 and a DC-8 during late August and September. During the same period, the second National Ozone Experiment will study the ozone hole from the ground at McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

The high-altitude ER-2 will fly at about 65,000 feet at the level of maximum ozone loss, and will sample the air as well as directly measure temperatures and the chemical composition of the atmosphere.

At a much lower altitude, the DC-8 will be carrying a flying laboratory complete with instruments and scientists. NASA hopes to exploit the greater range of the DC-8 by using satellite ozone data to guide this plane under the region of greatest ozone depletion, an area that moves daily as the ozone hole continuously shifts over latitudes south of 45|.

The research community is debating two theories to explain the ozone depletions. Some scientists maintain that chemicals, possibly industrially produced fluorocarbons, are destroying the Antarctic ozone, while others believe that natural--and thus unavoidable--dynamic cycles are at the root. This project will seek to resolve the relative importances of chemistry and dynamics over Antarctica, says Robert Watson of NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The participants in the experiment will issue a report on their findings on Oct. 1, three days after the program ends. Although scientists usually require months to analyze data and review each other's work, says Watson, the participants agreed to work collectively in order to expediently inform policymakers who are considering limiting the production of fluorocarbons.
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Title Annotation:Airborne Antarctic Ozone Experiment
Publication:Science News
Date:Aug 8, 1987
Words:383
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