Nitrous oxide’s ozone destructiveness under different climate scenarios

David R. Kanter1,2, Sonali P. McDermid1,3, Larissa Nazarenko3

1Department of Environmental Studies, New York University, 285 Mercer Street, New York, NY, 10003, USA

2Agriculture and Food Security Center, Columbia University, 61 Route 9w, Palisades, NY, 10964, USA

3NASA Goddard Institute for Space Sciences, 2880 Broadway, New York, NY, 10025, USA


Nitrous oxide (N2O) is an important greenhouse gas and ozone depleting substance as well as a key component of the nitrogen cascade. While emissions scenarios indicating the range of N2O’s potential future contributions to radiative forcing are widely available, the impact of these emissions scenarios on future stratospheric ozone depletion is less clear. This is because N2O’s ozone destructiveness is partially dependent on tropospheric warming, which affects ozone depletion rates in the stratosphere. Consequently, in order to understand the possible range of stratospheric ozone depletion that N2O could cause over the 21st century, it is important to decouple the greenhouse gas emissions scenarios and compare different emissions trajectories for individual substances (e.g. business-as-usual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions versus low emissions of N2O). This study is the first to follow such an approach, running a series of experiments using the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Sciences ModelE2 atmospheric sub-model. We anticipate our results to show that stratospheric ozone depletion will be highest in a scenario where CO2 emissions reductions are prioritized over N2O reductions, as this would constrain ozone recovery while doing little to limit stratospheric NOx levels (the breakdown product of N2O that destroys stratospheric ozone). This could not only delay the recovery of the stratospheric ozone layer, but might also prevent a return to pre-1980 global average ozone concentrations, a key goal of the international ozone regime. Accordingly, we think this will highlight the importance of reducing emissions of all major greenhouse gas emissions, including N2O, and not just a singular policy focus on CO2.