How climate change could hit the ozone layer

Has climate change now begun to affect the ozone layer? Tipping points, and consequences…

From Wikipedia:

The Catatumbo Lightning (Spanish: Relámpago del Catatumbo) is an atmospheric phenomenon in Venezuela. It occurs strictly in an area located over the mouth of the Catatumbo River where it empties into Lake Maracaibo. The frequent, powerful flashes of lightning over this relatively small area are considered by some to be the world’s largest single generator of tropospheric ozone. It originates from a mass of storm clouds that create a voltaic arc at more than 5 km of height, during 140 to 160 nights a year, 10 hours per day and up to 280 times per hour. It occurs over and around Lake Maracaibo, typically over a bog area that forms where the Catatumbo River flows into the Venezuelan lake.

The storms have an annual occurrence of 140 to 160 nights, each lasting up to 10 hours per night and each producing up to 280 strikes per hour. Furthermore, these thunderstorms produce a high percentage of all the ozone production worldwide. The Catatumbo Lightning can be considered a major regenerator of the planet’s ozone layer, as it produces approximately 1,176,000 kW of atmospheric electricity.

After appearing continually for centuries, the lightning has not been seen since January 2010, apparently due to a drought, raising fears that it may have been extinguished permanently.

I have looked for more information on the current status of the Catatumbo lightning, but have found nothing. An entry on Wikipedia claimed that it returned in April 2010 – which might be true, hopefully it is, but there was no supporting reference for this claim.

There’s a good article on the subject in the Guardian, from March 2010.

About David

I am an environmental writer, journalist and speaker living in Cape Town, South Africa.
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3 Responses to How climate change could hit the ozone layer

  1. Maggie Zhou says:

    David,

    I just came across the wikipedia entry on the Catatumbo lightning today, and was also worried about what it said about its disappearance January and April 2010. In searching for more current information on whether it has reappeared, I found your article. But what’s interesting to me is that some of the statements that you quoted from the wikipedia Catatumbo Lightning entry is now no longer there.

    Specifically, this sentence is gone: “Furthermore, these thunderstorms produce a high percentage of all the ozone production worldwide. The Catatumbo Lightning can be considered a major regenerator of the planet’s ozone layer, as it produces approximately 1,176,000 kW of atmospheric electricity.”

    Instead, in the first paragraph of this entry, it says: “The frequent, powerful flashes of lightning over this relatively small area are considered to be the world’s largest single generator of tropospheric ozone[2] but not replenishing the ozone layer, as the latter is located in the stratosphere[3].”

    But, in the wikipedia entry on Ozone, it states: “Ozone is similarly formed in the Catatumbo lightning storms phenomenon on the Catatumbo River in Venezuela, which helps to replenish ozone in the upper troposphere. It is the world’s largest single natural generator of ozone, lending calls for it to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[47]”

    “Upper troposphere” is of course close to the stratosphere, and I don’t know whether researchers know for a fact if ozone between the two layers of the atmosphere can migrate appreciably or not (I would imagine it can to some degree). So, it is curious that the wikipedia entry for Catatumbo lightning has changed in this regard, in the recent past.

    If you uncover any further info on this, as well as on whether the Catatumbo lightning has reappeared, please kindly let me know. Thank you.

    Maggie

    • David says:

      Dear Maggie, thanks so much for this great comment. Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to find more information on this. Perhaps we should write to one of the Venezuelan embassies to see if they can assist us?

      • David says:

        Of course, the alarming thing about this is that there are probably many other significant changes in atmospheric phenomena as a result of climate change that we are simply not aware of yet. (“Unknown unknowns.”)

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