Previous article in this series: March 15, 2015, p. 283.
Previously in this rubric we have examined some of the main characters in the elegant book of creation and examined how they illustrate the wisdom of God as well as other important spiritual truths. Recently, we examined oxygen and considered it from the perspective of its absolute necessity for daily life, not only that of humans, but also that of creatures.
We now turn our attention to oxygen again, but this time from the perspective of a lesser known form of oxygen—ozone. For many of us, our knowledge of ozone is limited by what we learn from the media and amounts to little more than a passing understanding of a hole in the ozone layer. Though there are chemicals that do destroy ozone, few people are aware that there are other naturally occurring reactions that actually rejuvenate it. However, before we can investigate that reality, we need to know more about ozone itself. Therefore, in this article we will examine the crucial role ozone plays in the creation, and the Lord willing, we will discuss both the breaking down and also the building up of ozone in the stratosphere in our next article.
Ozone—What it is
As we examined in our last set of articles, the element oxygen is commonly found in the creation in its diatomic (two atom) form (O2). Oxygen gas (O2) serves us in the way of giving us the necessary chemicals for respiration so that our bodies can burn ingested foods, thus giving us energy for daily life. In addition, oxygen is necessary for combustion so that we can burn fuel to heat our homes, cook our food, move our automobiles, and the many other things that require combustion reactions.
However, the element oxygen is also found in creation in another form—its triatomic (three atom) form (O3), known as “ozone.” Ozone is rare at lower atmospheric altitudes but is far more abundant at higher altitudes. The layer of atmosphere extending from ground level to approximately 20 km in altitude, where most of life activity occurs (humans and animals live; trees grow; birds soar; airplanes fly), is called the troposphere. In this region of the atmosphere the element oxygen is found predominantly in its diatomic form (O2). The next layer of the atmosphere, extending from 20 km to 85 km, is called the stratosphere. The stratosphere has within itself distinct layers of air—a cooler lower region and a warmer upper region. Ozone is found in large quantities in the lower layer of the stratosphere. Collectively, the ozone molecules in the stratosphere are called the ozone layer. The term “ozone layer,” however, is a bit misleading as it implies that the atmosphere consists of a thick layer of pure ozone molecules. In reality, however, ozone molecule concentrations in the stratosphere are rather low—approximately 10 ppm (parts per million). If it were possible to collect all the ozone in the stratosphere into a concentrated layer, it would be only about 3 mm thick.1
Ozone is a strong oxidizing agent, that is, it easily removes electrons from other substances so that they do not function as they once did. This makes ozone particularly good as a sterilizer and disinfectant, but also very harmful to humans, animals, and plants. In the wisdom of God, ozone is not found naturally in large quantities in the troposphere, thus sparing us and the other creatures from its harmful effects. Ozone, however, is found in much more abundance in the stratosphere and serves a very important role for our benefit.
Ozone—Its Role in the Creation
Ozone’s role in the creation is to filter harmful ultraviolet (UV) light out of the sun’s rays. The manner in which ozone accomplishes this is somewhat complex.
First, we must understand that sunlight is composed of different forms of light with different amounts of energy. The sun’s radiation has various forms: visible light; infra-red (IR) radiation; and ultra-violet (UV) radiation. Approximately 51% of the sun’s rays come to earth as IR radiation, providing sufficient warmth; 47% comes in the form of visible light, illuminating our planet so we can see; and the remaining 2% comes in the form of UV radiation. This UV radiation comes in three different forms, due to their different wavelengths (measured in nanometers (nm), which are one billionth of a meter). UV-A is UV light with a wavelength of approximately 400 to 315 nm; UV-B radiation has wavelengths between 315 nm and 280 nm; while UV-C radiation has wavelengths between 280 and 100 nm. Light rays with small wavelength have more energy than light rays with large wavelength. Therefore, UV-C rays have more energy than UV-B rays, and UV-B more than UV-A.
Secondly, we must understand that the bonds that hold atoms together as a molecule can be broken. In order for such a bond to be broken, a molecule must absorb a specific amount of energy. For example, the energy to break the bonds found in diatomic oxygen is different from the energy to break the bonds found in ozone, because the kinds of bonds in those molecules are different. Since the bonds found in diatomic oxygen are stronger than the bonds found in ozone, more energy is needed to break the bonds in diatomic oxygen molecules than is needed to break ozone molecular bonds. By God’s marvelous design, UV-C light, which has a small wavelength and therefore a high energy, has the exact level of energy needed to break the diatomic oxygen bonds. Meanwhile, most of the UV-B light has the necessary energy to break ozone molecule bonds. (The benefits of these rays breaking down the O2 or O3 will be explained in the next article.) The energy of the light is transformed into heat and serves also to separate the atoms of the molecule from each other. The light’s energy is no longer in the form of light rays, and therefore much of the UV light from the sun is absorbed (filtered out) by our atmosphere (through breaking the bonds of these molecules).
Collectively, the gases of our atmosphere, such as diatomic oxygen gas, nitrogen gas, and ozone effectively prevent all UV-C rays from penetrating to earth’s surface, while ozone molecules virtually alone are responsible for absorbing UV-B rays. Since UV-B rays have a range of wavelengths (280-315 nm) and, consequently, a range of energy, a portion of that range will not be absorbed by ozone. Approximately 10-30% of UV-B rays are not absorbed by ozone molecules, since some of the UV-B rays have wavelengths (and energy) that are beyond the range of energy used to break ozone molecular bonds. Some UV-B rays, therefore, reach ground-level. No atmospheric molecules are able to absorb UV-A rays. Since UV-A and some UV-B rays penetrate all the way to earth’s surface, beach-goers wisely lather up with a sunscreen with UV-A and UV-B ray protection.
The UV rays that penetrate to earth’s surface can have serious effects on plants, animals, and humans. The main effects are these: damaged plant leaves; lower fruit and seed production in plants; damaged photoplankton in the oceans—a major part of the marine food chain and a major organism that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; cataract formation; suppressed immune systems; and skin cancer.
UV-B rays, in particular, can damage DNA molecules in the skin, resulting in skin cancer. Most cases of skin cancer are the non-fatal form (non-melanoma). One in four Americans and three of every four Australians (above whom a large hole in the ozone layer appears each Spring) will sometime in their life be affected by non-melanoma skin cancer due to overexposure to UV-B rays.
Ozone, therefore, is a vital substance in our atmosphere. In the upper atmosphere, ozone serves the important role of filtering out harmful UV-B and UV-C rays. By removing much of the UV-B out of the sun’s rays, plants, animals, and humans are protected from the dangerous effects of over-exposure to UV light.
A Marvelous Work of God
God created a marvelous, intricate creation. When one examines any part of the creation, such as the ozone layer, one is again impressed at God’s wise design in giving each creature its “being, shape, form and several offices [specific purpose] to serve its Creator; that He doth also still uphold and govern them by His eternal providence and infinite power, for the service of mankind, to the end that man may serve his God” (Belgic Confession, Art. 12). As was illustrated in this article, ozone molecules have been given a unique ability to absorb UV-B rays. God created these ozone molecules with the purpose, in part, of protecting us from the harmful rays of the sun.
Generally, we think of the sun as being important in God’s creation for giving us light (visible portion of Electromagnetic Spectrum) so we can see and for providing us the necessary warmth (Infrared portion of Electromagnetic Spectrum). But the sun also was created to emit UV rays. Some of the UV rays, such as UV-C and UV-B, are high in energy. Their high energy is critical for the necessary role they play in some important chemical reactions in the atmosphere. But their high energy also makes these forms of UV rays harmful to biological tissues (skin, leaves, etc.). Therefore, God wisely created a layer of molecules in the upper atmosphere to remove these high energy UV rays before they interact with biological tissues, while allowing them to energize (catalyze) necessary chemical reactions in the atmosphere.
Whether great or infinitesimally small, every creature was wisely designed by God to work in harmony. Thus, the entire creation is one unified, organic whole. And each and every day, God sovereignly continues to uphold that creation as all of these marvelous processes work together. “Thy faithfulness is unto all generations: thou hast established the earth, and it abideth. They continue this day according to thine ordinances: for all are thy servants” ().
Yet, the fool in his heart says “there is no God” (). Unbelief sees these glorious works in the creation and refuses to glorify God, but, rather, “change[s] the truth of God into a lie, and worship[s] and serve[s] the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen” ( ). Unbelief and blindness propose that such a beautiful and intricate creation came into existence on its own and gradually became this organized and harmonious creation in which we live. Yet the more we consider and study these processes with the eyes of faith, so far are we from removing God from His creation, that we all the more stand in awe of His majesty and wisdom (Ps. 93:1). God is God—the Creator, who is blessed for ever. This is His work! “Thou are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power; for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” ( )!
1 http://www.mhhe.com/physsci/chemistry/chang7/ssg/chap17_3sg.html, accessed Jan 19, 2016.