To support the effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, the Florida Museum is temporarily closed to the public until further notice. More Info

A team of scientists is embarking on a NASA-funded research project to identify whether there is a new threat to Earth’s ozone layer, using a special plane to capture air samples in the stratosphere.

What’s going on?

Storm clouds typically rise until they reach the top of the troposphere, where they commonly spread out into a shape referred to as an anvil. Powerful storms, however, can have a strong updraft, pushing air up past the troposphere into the stratosphere, forming a dome over the top of the cloud’s anvil shape.

Researchers in the Dynamics and Chemistry of the Summer Stratosphere (DCOTSS) project are setting out to measure whether these severe storms, a frequent occurrence over the U.S. Great Plains, are propelling ozone-depleting pollutants into the stratosphere.

Why it matters.

The ozone layer, which is concentrated in the stratosphere, appears to be recovering from damage caused by the widespread use of chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, until they were banned. But it may not be in the clear just yet, according to University of Miami professor Elliot Atlas.

“With warmer conditions, the atmosphere contains more moisture, and elevated water in the stratosphere is a potential catalyst to remove ozone. A warmer future could continually add more water to the stratosphere and initiate ozone losses over North America,” Atlas told UM News.

Atlas, along with postdoctoral scientists Katie Smith and Victoria Treadaway, will form part of NASA’s DCOTSS team of 20 researchers.

Where can I learn more?