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Ash Plumes and Chlorine Radicals

Ash Plumes and Chlorine Radicals

Southern Chile UPI/Miguel Angel Bustos

Ash plume analysis reveals surprising results

When the eruption of Iceland’s now infamous volcano Eyjafjallajökull brought an uncharacteristically peaceful silence to European flight paths in April 2010, the science world turned its attention to volcanic gas and its effects, and new European research reveals some surprising facts about the ash plume.

The research, conducted by a team from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, found that the ash plume contained not only the common volcanic gas sulfur dioxide, but also free chlorine radicals. Chlorine radicals are extremely reactive and even tiny amounts that can have a profound impact on local atmospheric chemistry.

The findings, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, present the evidence of volcanic plume chlorine radical chemistry, which allowed the team to make calculations of chlorine radical concentrations.

Although it has long been known that when volcanoes erupt they emit chlorine-containing gases, until now there was no evidence that highly reactive chlorine radicals were also present.

This kind of evidence can surely turn known science on its head. Ozone depleting particles in ash plumes. Bet NASA didn’t see that coming.

Chlorine radicals, have been blamed for the depletion of the ozone, as described here in a paper at the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry(IUPAC):

Pollution is responsible for chlorine radicals (Cl•) and chloroxy-radicals (ClO•) in the stratosphere which destroy ozone. These are decomposition products of ‘chlorofluorocarbons’ so-called CFC’s. CFC’c are fairly inert materials at sea level and their property of changing readily between gas and liquid states upon changing the pressure have led to their use as propellants in aerosol sprays and coolants in refrigerators and freezers.

In the stratosphere, CFC’s fragment under the influence of UV-radiation from the sun and react with (for the most part) hydroxy-radicals.

The chlorine radical can destroy a number of ozone molecules via a chain reaction:


In this way, a single chlorine radical can degrade up to 100,000 ozone molecules before being inactivated e.g. by reacting with NO2 :

I’ve always been reluctant to agree with the current science regarding CFC’s and its part in reducing the Ozone, and this new evidence could end a 30 year regulation and open new investigations as to the cause of ozone depletion.

If the scientists found chlorine radicals in the ash plume at Eyjafjallajökull, and further studies determine that chlorine radicals are emitted from other volcanoes, a study of those particles in that stratosphere could determine if chlorine radicals actually thin the ozone.

It shouldn’t be that difficult to monitor the ozone at areas where volcanoes are erupting.

There are currently 5 volcanoes that I know of that are currently emitting ash.

Nasa has the Aura satellite with OMI sensors, but I’m not completely convinced that it detects the chlorine radicals that the Max Plank Group found.

Otherwise, NASA would have discovered this the moment they started collecting data from the Aura Mission Satellite.

Should be very interesting what unveils from all of this.

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2 responses to “Ash Plumes and Chlorine Radicals

  1. Tucci June 15, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Yep, this certainly is interesting. When the “ozone hole” noise first came up, and I mentioned the then quite common knowledge of chlorine-containing compounds (and chlorine free radicals) in the volcanic particulates and gases forced up into the stratosphere by eruptions – in volumes such that a single such eruption could easily put more chlorine into the atmosphere than has all purposeful human action since H. sapiens came down out of the trees – I got condemned as an enemy of science and told to shut up.

    Freon leaks (chlorinated fluorocarbons) are supposed to be evil-bad-horrible-nasty somehow physically and chemically more puissant than are erupting volcanoes.

    Focus upon the mechanism of chlorine degradation of atmospheric ozone seems to have been undertaken in the demonization of CFC compounds without genuine, conscientious regard for the mechanisms responsible for the creation of high-level atmospheric ozone in the first place.

    Is the “ozone hole” phenomenon the result of accelerated degradation of ozone, or reduction of activity in other – non-anthropogenic – factors, terrestrial and extraterrestrial (mostly solar), responsible for the creation of that component in the first place?

    • ClimateForAll June 15, 2011 at 11:35 pm

      In regards to your question of the “ozone hole” phenomenon, a lack of solar activity may be responsible for an increase in cosmic particles entering the earths atmostphere. Cosmic rays entering at the poles, creating an ionization of sorts, between cosmic particles and O3, may contribute to most of the ozone “thinning”.
      But more research is necessary. -CFA

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