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The Winter 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist includes a variety of educational resources, ranging from astronomy to glaciers. Check out the other publications and classroom materials in our online store.
In the troposphere, the ground-level or "bad" ozone is an air pollutant that damages human health, vegetation, and many common materials. It is a key ingredient of urban smog. In the stratosphere, we find the "good" ozone that protects life on earth from the harmful effects of the Sun's ultraviolet rays.
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Courtesy of COMET program

Ozone - An Overview

The Ozone Hole. The Ozone Hoax. Pollution. Skin Cancer. The topic of ozone makes headlines on a regular basis, but why does a single molecule merit such media coverage? How important is the ozone in our atmosphere and why are scientists so concerned about its increase near the surface of the Earth and its disappearance higher up in the atmosphere?

First things first - what is ozone? Ozone is made of three oxygen atoms (O3). The oxygen in our atmosphere that we breathe is made up of two oxygen atoms (O2). Because of its chemical formulation, a single atom of oxygen (O) is unstable. That is, it wants to combine with something else. That is why oxygen is almost always found in pairs, in its (diatomic) form, where it is more stable. (O3) is less stable than (O2), because it wants to return to the diatomic state by giving up an oxygen atom.

When enough ozone molecules are present, it forms a pale blue gas. Ozone has the same chemical structure whether it is found in the stratosphere or the troposphere. Where we find ozone in the atmosphere determines whether we consider it to be Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde.

In the troposphere, the ground-level or "bad" ozone is an air pollutant that damages human health, vegetation, and many common materials. It is a key ingredient of urban smog. In the stratosphere, we find the "good" ozone that protects life on Earth from the harmful effects of the Sun's ultraviolet rays. We have good reason to be concerned about the thinning of the ozone layer in the stratosphere. We also have good reason to be concerned about the buildup of ozone in the troposphere. Although simplistic, the saying "Good up high and bad near by," sums up ozone in the atmosphere.

Last modified January 8, 2007 by Jennifer Bergman.

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