Ozone is basically oxygen with the structural modification of having an extra atom, yet this extra atom makes a substantial difference. While an oxygen molecule is stable and the gas is vital for our life, the molecule of the ozone is fairly unstable and the gas has certain harmful effects. On one hand, the high concentration of ozone in our planet’s stratosphere forms the ozone layer which protects us from the Sun’s dangerous ultraviolet radiation, yet on another and ironically, ground level ozone is an air pollutant with harmful effects on the respiratory systems of people and animals (exposure to ozone is linked to premature death, asthma, bronchitis, heart attack, and other cardiopulmonary problems.) And here comes the next irony of ozone generators marketed as air cleaners to disinfect and scent our indoor environments.
Ozone does have a strong scent, and its unusual smell was first recorded in 1785 by the Dutch chemist Martinus van Marum, and over half a century later, in 1839, the German-Swiss chemist Christian Friedrich Schönbein was the first to succeed in isolating the gaseous chemical, and to coin its name, as Ozon, after the Greek ozon, neuter present participle of ozein (to smell).
The name entered the English vocabulary to quote Schönbein on his argument for coining the term, Reports of the British association for the advancement of science from 1841: “I shall..consider the odoriferous principle as an elementary body and call it ‘Ozone’, on account of its strong smell”.
And when it comes to the ozone layer, it was discovered in 1913 by the French physicists Charles Fabry and Henri Buisson, followed by numerous attempts to develop instruments and methods to measure the layer, with one of most prominent of the time, the measurements in the visible part of the spectra by the French Cabannes and Dufay in 1927, resulting in the first recorded use of the term in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London “Cabannes and Dufay..have estimated the height of the ozone layer by making measurements of the intensity of sunlight with very low sun”.
The first international Conference on Ozone was held in Paris in 1929 in an attempt to co-ordinate the research in the field; and the International Ozone Commission was formally established in 1948 with the aim to organise an ozone survey for Western Europe and to assist the establishment of ozone stations in other parts of the world.
The discovery of the hole in the ozone layer changed the world, first observed by NASA’s Ozone Processing Team in 1977, yet officially confirmed in 1985 by a British Antarctic Survey team, to take the press by storm, 1986, Science news’ title: “Ozone hole at southern pole.”
As a result of the discovery, the world embraces sunscreens and pledged to limit the usage of ozone depleting chemicals and aerosols with chlorofluorocarbons, with the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer paving the way to sustainability in 1987.
Today, the area of the ozone hole is 20 times bigger compared to the first measurements from 1979, yet a slightly positive tendency is to be observed in the last year, with scientists predicting that sustainability measures might help the ozone hole to recover back to its 1980 levels around 2070.