Instead, they began with basic questions about the nature of Earth's atmosphere—its composition, density, and temperature distribution.The composition of our planet's atmosphere fascinated humans long before chemistry became a formal science. Dobson developed a spectrometer that could measure small concentrations of ozone.
But unrelated research in an entirely different field, analytical chemistry, soon came to the rescue.
Analytical chemists had begun developing a cavalcade of new instruments and methods to measure minute quantities of compounds in the laboratory.
This biologically damaging, high-energy radiation can cause skin cancer, injure eyes, harm the immune system, and upset the fragile balance of an entire ecosystem.
Although, two decades ago, most scientists would have scoffed at the notion that industrial chemicals could destroy ozone high up in the atmosphere, researchers now know that chlorine creates the hole by devouring ozone molecules.
In the absence of this gaseous shield in the stratosphere, the harmful radiation has a perfect portal through which to strike Earth.
Although a combination of weather conditions and CFC chemistry conspire to create the thinnest ozone levels in the sky above the South Pole, CFCs are mainly released at northern latitudes—mostly from Europe, Russia, Japan, and North America—and play a leading role in lowering ozone concentrations around the globe.
Like many lines of scientific inquiry, research leading to the prediction and discovery of global ozone depletion and the damaging effects of CFCs followed a path full of twists and turns.
Investigators did not set our to determine whether human activity affects our environment nor did they know much about chemical pollutants.
But in attempting to further analyze the composition of the atmosphere, researchers at the turn of the century faced a major stumbling block: virtually all gases, except for molecular nitrogen and oxygen, exist in such minute concentrations that available equipment could not detect them. During the 1880s, scientists had begun perfecting a new, highly precise method of identifying a compound by recording a special kind of chemical fingerprint—the particular pattern of wavelengths of light it emits or absorbs. By the 1950s, researchers had identified 14 atmospheric chemical constituents.
Despite this progress, researchers were still missing a major piece of the atmospheric puzzle.