Impact of Severe Drought in Ozone Pollution

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Impact of Severe Drought in Ozone Pollution

There will be a rise in episodes of droughts in subtropical areas due to the Earth's warming causing the shifting of weather patterns and more evaporation / Photo by David Braun via Shutterstock

 

Climate change has caused extreme negative changes in our planet, from the rising of sea temperature, stronger weather events to drought and many more. It can affect many lives, livelihoods, and the economy of several countries around the world. The National Climatic Data Center reported that drought can cause severe impacts of all the weather-related phenomena in the United States alone.

Most of us would probably define drought as a period of unusually dry weather, which can cause problems such as crop damage if not addressed immediately. In an article by the Live Science, David Miskus, a drought expert and meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center, stated that drought "is caused by not only lack of precipitation and high temperatures but by overuse and overpopulation." 

There are several categories of drought, such as meteorological, agricultural, hydrological, and socioeconomic. It can devastate the economy of a country and also be dangerous to human health. A report from the NOAA showed that the United States had a total cost of $9 billion a year due to droughts. The likelihood of droughts to occur will continue to increase not only in the US but also in many other countries.

In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that there will be a rise in episodes of droughts in subtropical areas, such as Africa, Europe, Australia, and the US southwest due to the Earth's warming causing the shifting of weather patterns and more evaporation. One of the most affected by the severe droughts happening all over the world is the ozone pollution.

What is Ozone Pollution? 

Ground-level ozone is known to be a human health and environmental hazard. It can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory problems and at the same time harm natural resources and wildlife. According to an article by How Stuff Works, ozone is a molecule of three oxygen atoms bound together, is unstable and highly reactive. It can be found in the Earth's atmosphere and can be toxic at low concentrations. 

The United States Environmental Protection Agency also reported that the ozone in the air we breathe can have negative impacts on our health especially when it reaches unhealthy levels. It ends in rural areas although it is usually formed in urban and suburban places. In an interview, Mark Frampton, a researcher at the University of Rochester Medical Center, said, “We know that ozone has an irritant effect on the airways. It causes inflammation. That irritation causes a reflex that reduces the lung function, and reduces your ability to get a deep breath in." 

 

A recent study conducted by the researchers from the American Chemical Society published in the ACS' journal Environmental Science & Technology showed that drought conditions can have complicated impacts on ozone pollution. The researchers decided to analyze data from two ozone-polluted cities in California since the US state experienced its worst drought on record between 2011 and 2015. 

According to an article by the Science Daily, ozone at ground level is a harmful air pollutant to humans, plants, and animals although its presence in the stratosphere protects the Earth from ultraviolet radiation. It is formed when nitrogen oxide compounds, which usually come from motor vehicle emissions, react with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from natural and anthropogenic sources. 

Although plants are known to decrease air ozone levels, they can also be a significant contributor to ozone production during summer months in many communities around the world. The study aims to examine air concentrations of isoprene and ozone since drought conditions have now an impact on the plants. The researchers have used publicly available data collected from the ground and satellites in Fresno and analyzed it. 

Plants can also be a significant contributor to ozone production during summer months in many communities around the world / Photo by Kim Christensen via Shutterstock

 

The findings of the study showed that severe drought had changed ozone production to the point that it became chemically more sensitive. The researchers thus concluded that that drought influences on ozone pollution depend on the duration and severity of the drought.

Harmful Impacts of Ozone

Human health is the most affected by ozone. It can cause shortness of breath, coughing, and sore or scratchy throat, the damage of airways, increase in the frequency of asthma attacks, aggravate lung diseases, cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and many more. The World Health Organization reported that several European studies showed that daily mortality rates can rise by 0.3% when five parts per billion (ppb) of ozone is added in the air. 

Aside from the harmful effects that ozone can bring to a person's health, it can also damage our environment. According to US EPA, it can have negative impacts on sensitive vegetation and ecosystems. This includes wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, parks, and forests. It can also harm sensitive vegetation during the growing season and damage crops.

 

 An article by the Scientific American reported that ozone can prevent the ability of plants to photosynthesize resulting in harmful impacts to crops and ecosystems, which are important to the world's food supply. One study projected that by 2030, 26% of the global wheat crop will be damaged. Ozone has the ability to bring the value of crops down to US$35 billion.

 

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