Severe Storms and Ozone Loss in the Midwest

October 5, 2017
Powerful Storms and Climate Change

The Midwest knows storms. The region experiences more heavy rain, hail, high winds and so-called climate disasters than any other region in the United States (Source: National Centers for Environmental Information). Frequent, severe storms--made more frequent and severe with effects from climate change--threaten humans, plants, and animals living on Midwest turf. But what about the effects on their stratosphere?

In a June 5, 2017 publication in PNAS, James G. Anderson, the Philip S. Weld Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry, presents his team's observations of the effects of water vapor on the stratospheric ozone: 

"Stratospheric ozone is one of the most delicate aspects of habitability on the planet....We report here observations of the frequency and depth of penetration of convectively injected water vapor into the stratosphere, triggered by severe storms that are specific to the central United States in summer, and model their effect on lower stratospheric ozone. This effect implies, with observed temperatures, increased risk of ozone loss over the Great Plains in summer."

With increased ozone loss comes increased vulnerability to UV radiation. And, harmful UV impacts not just human health but crop yields and livestock, huge industries that benefit much wider populations than those under UV pressure in the Midwest. Now, Anderson and team are developing new tools, such as a super-pressure balloon designed to collect data at an average of 75,000 feet, to better understand these effects and whether they could be reversed.