Twenty Questions and Answers About the Ozone Layer: 2010 Update

2010 Ozone Assessment Twenty Questions and Answers About the Ozone Layer cover

Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion: 2010

World Meteorological Organization Global Ozone Research and Monitoring Project - Report No. 52

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

United Nations Environment Programme

World Meteorological Organization

European Commission

Additional Topics: Heavier-Than-Air CFCs

CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances reach the stratosphere despite the fact that they are "heavier than air." For example, molecules of CFC-11 (CCl3F) and CFC-12 (CCl2F2) are approximately 4-5 times heavier than the average molecule of air, since air is composed primarily of oxygen and nitrogen. The emissions of long-lived gases accumulate in the lower atmosphere (troposphere). The distribution of these gases in the troposphere and stratosphere is not controlled by the molecular weight of each gas because air is in continual motion in these regions as a result of winds and convection. Continual air motions ensure that new emissions of long-lived gases are horizontally and vertically well mixed throughout the troposphere within a few months. It is this well-mixed air that enters the lower stratosphere from upward air motions in tropical regions, bringing with it ozone-depleting substances emitted from any location on Earth's surface.

Atmospheric measurements confirm that ozone-depleting substances with long atmospheric lifetimes are well mixed in the troposphere and are present in the stratosphere (see Figure Q8-2 in Q8: What are the reactive halogen gases that destroy stratospheric ozone? PDF file). The amounts found in these regions are generally consistent with the emission estimates reported by industries and governments. Measurements also show that gases that are "lighter than air," such as hydrogen (H2) and methane (CH4), are also well mixed in the troposphere, as expected, and not found only in the upper atmosphere. Noble gases from very light helium to very heavy xenon, which all have very long atmospheric lifetimes, are also uniformly distributed throughout the troposphere and stratosphere. Only at altitudes well above the troposphere and stratosphere (above 85 kilometers (53 miles)), where much less air is present, does the influence of winds and convection diminish to the point where heavy gases begin to separate from lighter gases as a result of gravity.