WG I The Scientific Basis - Technical Summary

Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis

Other reports in this collection

C.2 Observed Changes in Other Radiatively Important Gases

Atmospheric ozone (O3)

Ozone (O3) is an important greenhouse gas present in both the stratosphere and troposphere. The role of ozone in the atmospheric radiation budget is strongly dependent on the altitude at which changes in ozone concentrations occur. The changes in ozone concentrations are also spatially variable. Further, ozone is not a directly emitted species, but rather it is formed in the atmosphere from photochemical processes involving both natural and human-influenced precursor species. Once formed, the residence time of ozone in the atmosphere is relatively short, varying from weeks to months. As a result, estimation of ozone's radiative role is more complex and much less certain than for the above long-lived and globally well-mixed greenhouse gases.

The observed losses of stratospheric ozone layer over the past two decades have caused a negative forcing of 0.15 ± 0.1 Wm-2 (i.e., a tendency toward cooling) of the surface troposphere system. It was reported in Climate Change 1992: The Supplementary Report to the IPCC Scientific Assessment, that depletion of the ozone layer by anthropogenic halocarbons introduces a negative radiative forcing. The estimate shown in Figure 9 is slightly larger in magnitude than that given in the SAR, owing to the ozone depletion that has continued over the past five years, and it is more certain as a result of an increased number of modelling studies. Studies with General Circulation Models indicate that, despite the inhomogeneity in ozone loss (i.e., lower stratosphere at high latitudes), such a negative forcing does relate to a surface temperature decrease in proportion to the magnitude of the negative forcing. Therefore, this negative forcing over the past two decades has offset some of the positive forcing that is occurring from the long-lived and globally well-mixed greenhouse gases (Figure 9). A major source of uncertainty in the estimation of the negative forcing is due to incomplete knowledge of ozone depletion near the tropopause. Model calculations indicate that increased penetration of ultraviolet radiation to the troposphere, as a result of stratospheric ozone depletion, leads to enhanced removal rates of gases like CH4, thus amplifying the negative forcing due to ozone depletion. As the ozone layer recovers in future decades because of the effects of the Montreal Protocol, relative to the present, future radiative forcing associated with stratospheric ozone is projected to become positive.

The global average radiative forcing due to increases in tropospheric ozone since pre-industrial times is estimated to have enhanced the anthropogenic greenhouse gas forcing by 0.35 ± 0.2 Wm-2. This makes tropospheric ozone the third most important greenhouse gas after CO2 and CH4. Ozone is formed by photochemical reactions and its future change will be determined by, among other things, emissions of CH4 and pollutants (as noted below). Ozone concentrations respond relatively quickly to changes in the emissions of pollutants. On the basis of limited observations and several modelling studies, tropospheric ozone is estimated to have increased by about 35% since the Pre-industrial Era, with some regions experiencing larger and some with smaller increases. There have been few observed increases in ozone concentrations in the global troposphere since the mid-1980s at most of the few remote locations where it is regularly measured. The lack of observed increase over North America and Europe is related to the lack of a sustained increase in ozone-precursor emissions from those continents. However, some Asian stations indicate a possible rise in tropospheric ozone, which could be related to the increase in East Asian emissions. As a result of more modelling studies than before, there is now an increased confidence in the estimates of tropospheric ozone forcing. The confidence, however, is still much less than that for the well-mixed greenhouse gases, but more so than that for aerosol forcing. Uncertainties arise because of limited information on pre-industrial ozone distributions and limited information to evaluate modelled global trends in the modern era (i.e., post-1960).

Gases with only indirect radiative influences

Several chemically reactive gases, including reactive nitrogen species (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), and the volatile organic compounds (VOCs), control, in part, the oxidising capacity of the troposphere, as well as the abundance of ozone. These pollutants act as indirect greenhouse gases through their influence not only on ozone, but also on the lifetimes of CH4 and other greenhouse gases. The emissions of NOx and CO are dominated by human activities.

Carbon monoxide is identified as an important indirect greenhouse gas. Model calculations indicate that emission of 100 Mt of CO is equivalent in terms of greenhouse gas perturbations to the emission of about 5 Mt of CH4. The abundance of CO in the Northern Hemisphere is about twice that in the Southern Hemisphere and has increased in the second half of the 20th century along with industrialisation and population.

The reactive nitrogen species NO and NO2, (whose sum is denoted NOx), are key compounds in the chemistry of the troposphere, but their overall radiative impact remains difficult to quantify. The importance of NOx in the radiation budget is because increases in NOx concentrations perturb several greenhouse gases; for example, decreases in methane and the HFCs and increases in tropospheric ozone. Deposition of the reaction products of NOx fertilises the biosphere, thereby decreasing atmospheric CO2. While difficult to quantify, increases in NOx that are projected to the year 2100 would cause significant changes in greenhouse gases.

Other reports in this collection

IPCC Homepage