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The Elements

Oxygen Bars in Castlebar?
By Bowser
Feb 2, 2002, 19:07

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If you search for "Oxygen Bar" on "Google" it throws up about 3000 web pages advertising oxygen bars and oxygen bar equipment suppliers. Is it not time that Castlebar had its own Oxygen Bar? We have plenty of bars that merely sell alcohol but none selling oxygen sniffs. According to the Muirsín Durcan Photo Archive, Castlebar has about 43 or 44 active pubs (depending on how you do the counting), all with alcohol bars of course but none so far with oxygen bars.
Castlebar Bars
A few have Internet access terminals and some even sell wine - although we don't have a 'wine bar' per se as far as I know. So far oxygen is free (they haven't figured out how to tax it yet at least) but that shouldn't stop you paying to sniff oxygen in an oxygen bar if you want to. Of course you would imagine that water should be free too here in Mayo, lashed as it is by rain from the Atlantic. They laughed at Ballygowan when they started but if you had bought shares you'd be wealthy now. Nowadays plain uisce in bottles is sold at a price that is probably dearer per millilitre than beer. How many euros for a ml of beer? Could oxygen for sale become the new Emperor's Clothes in Castlebar? You just never know. Dehydrated water could be a runner too if the Celtic Tiger ever finds its stripes again. We fell for the ultimate marketing madness - human billboarding - so we could fall for anything. From the time we are born we sport blatant adverts on our clothes and possessions for multinational brands - AND without getting paid for it! Would DeValera and Michael Collins be happy if they knew that they fought for the right for Irish people to wear T-shirts advertising a black beer and to carry large oversized shopping bags advertising whatever it is you have just purchased? So we could easily fall for some slick campaign aimed at convincing the people of Mayo that oxygen is good for you.

Of course oxygen is good for you so they'd be off to a good start. In fact oxygen links all living organisms together in a very fundamental way. From simple bacteria to plants, insects, fish all the way up to mammals including man we all share the same basic mechanisms for making use of oxygen from the atmosphere in order to release energy from food. Only a very few can survive without oxygen - yeasts and sulphur bacteria for example. The nice thing is that oxygen is a 'waste' product of photosynthesis so that green plants pump the stuff out so that we can catch a breath. Then the real beauty is that the plants use the waste carbon dioxide we breathe out as their fuel source in turn. It's a very elegant cycle that has been humming along nicely now since Pre-Cambrian times.

The oceans' algae are also a major source of oxygen, but for a long time no one was sure just how much they produced and how important were they for maintaining the atmosphere's oxygen levels. During the Vietnam War a wonderful, apocalyptic idea spread about Agent Orange, the herbicide that was used to defoliate the Vietnamese jungles. What if one of the ships transporting the herbicide was attacked and sunk and spilled its cargo out into the oceans in catastrophic quantities? Designed to kill off plants in the first place, could Agent Orange manage to wipe out an ocean's worth of phytoplankton if it were to be dispersed rapidly by currents? All the oxygen produced from a large tract of ocean could be lost and the dying algae would actually suck even more oxygen from the water and atmosphere as it decayed. We need quite a high percentage of oxygen in the air we breathe to function properly so that if it dropped just a few percentage points we could be in serious trouble. At the time no one had done the sums - where does the oxygen we breathe really come from? The idea went out of favour and it now seems that the oceans are not the major supplier of oxygen to the atmosphere.

Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan project raised a fear that they might suffocate us all too. Some of the scientists on the project were reputed to have opened a book taking odds on whether the atmosphere would catch fire when they detonated the first atomic bomb. (Remember that this was top secret and only a handful of people had sufficient understanding of what they were at to even contemplate such a gamble). They thought there was a possibility that it would set off an unstoppable conflagration with the atmosphere's oxygen burning up the nitrogen at extreme temperatures - a lot of oxidised nitrogen being produced and possibly smothering the world.

Liquid oxygen is used to propel the space shuttle and other rockets into space by combining it rapidly with liquid hydrogen. A big bang, and off you go, leaving a pool of water behind as the oxygen and hydrogen combine. From up there though, above the atmosphere altogether, the shuttle astronauts have produced some nice images of the oceans and green plants across the surface that help to measure just how much algae there is in the oceans. But these photos are also used to predict how early or late the Russian wheat crop will be this year and what the futures prices are likely to be for a whole range of agricultural commodities.

As oxygen thins out near the edge of the atmosphere it serves an additional purpose when it recombines to form ozone, i.e. O3 instead of O2. This protects us from harmful UV rays. CFCs from your deodorant can or fridge helped to wipe out this protective layer in the upper atmosphere causing the famous hole in the ozone layer. It took about 25 years though before the science, that explained how CFCs damaged the ozone layer, was translated into public policy and a general ban was implemented on the use of CFCs. It's probably still too early to say how much damage has actually been done as these nasties have a very long life in the atmosphere. Ozone from your photocopier or laser printer is another animal, however, and close up it is quite a nasty oxidant so keep on taking the Vitamin E and Vitamin C! We muck around far too easily with things that we take for granted - such as, for example, being able to take a simple breath of oxygen.

Coming Next: Fierce Flourine

Previous Element: Nothing like Nitrogen

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