Examining Global Warming’s Best Friend, N2O

29 08 2009

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s) are out of the way – a major success story in the fight against ozone depletion but a new menace is quickly becoming the top dog in the crowd of global warming fugitives. It took more than 20 years, but CFC’s are finally down and still sinking but nitrous oxide is hastily becoming our new arch-enemy. Nitrous oxide is now, according to a new report from NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (NSRL), the most destructive and abundant man-derived greenhouse gas in our atmosphere. Where CFC’s were in our minds and in the environment now lies Nitrous Oxide.

“The dramatic reduction in CFCs over the last 20 years is an environmental success story. But manmade nitrous oxide is now the elephant in the room among ozone-depleting substances,” said Ravishankara, lead author of the study and director of the ESRL Chemical Sciences Division in Boulder, CO.

The gas is quite common, even it’s natural occurrences, but never in this quantity. The gas is derived from the fertilization of agriculture, mainly, but can also be found in animal dung, dentists’ offices (“Laughing Gas”), sewage treatment, combustion engines, and the rearing of livestock.

CFC’s were abundant in use, especially in aerosol cans in the 70’s and 80’s but scientists soon found that it’s effects on the environment were to harmful to be allowed to continue. In an international agreement, the Montreal Protocol was established in 1987 to reduce the CFC input into the environment world-wide. The plan was a huge success, now 22 years later, as we can see the incredible reduction of it’s concentration in the atmosphere. Although this is true, even the scars left behind are still mending; in particular the gaping hole in the ozone layer situated above the South Pole. Will nitrous oxide be as dangerous to the environment as the CFC’s were? In short, yes.

Examination of Atmospheric Layers

If left unchecked, the concentration of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere would continue to climb exponentially. We still have time to correct the problem before it gets out of control but it would take control to do it. The main target would certainly have to be the control of agricultural fertilization – fertilizers highly concentrated in the chemical. Although it does help the soil to produce more abundant (and vivacious) plants, it destroys the ozone layer – thinning it more and more.

What happens when the atmosphere gets thinner? More radiation enters the earth’s lower atmosphere which in turn actually harms the plants (and us). Imagine the worst sunburn you ever had. Multiply it. No one really wants to deal with the effects of global warming. “I don’t believe in it”. I guess it really doesn’t matter if you believe or not. It’s a decision that you’d have to make. A) Live with the changes you have to make today and be a little less “wasteful” or B) Ignore the warnings and live in a hotter, more naturally violent world potentially full of disease and famine. It’s up to you really….

Information derived from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Image derived from ScienceDaily.com
All information retrieved Saturday, August 29th, 2009

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