An almost colorless, gaseous form of oxygen with an odor similar to weak chlorine. A relatively unstable compound of three atoms of oxygen, ozone constitutes--on the average--less than one part per million (ppm) of the gases in the atmosphere (peak ozone concentration in the stratosphere can get as high as 10 ppm). Yet ozone in the stratosphere absorbs nearly all of the biologically damaging solar ultraviolet radiation before it reaches the Earth's surface where it can cause skin cancer, cataracts, and immune deficiencies, and can harm crops and aquatic ecosystems. See ozone layer.

Ozone is produced naturally in the middle and upper stratosphere through dissociation of molecular oxygen by sunlight. In the absence of chemical species produced by human activity, a number of competing chemical reactions among naturally occurring species--primarily atomic oxygen, molecular oxygen, and oxides of hydrogen and nitrogen--maintains the proper ozone balance. In the present-day stratosphere, this natural balance has been altered, particularly by the introduction of man-made chlorofluorocarbons. If the ozone decreases, the ultraviolet radiation at the Earth's surface will increase. See greenhouse gas

Tropospheric ozone is a by-product of the photochemical (light-induced) processes associated with air pollution. See photochemical smog. Ozone in the troposphere can damage plants and humans. Source: NASA (http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Glossary)

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