Environment

Satellite spots new ozone layer hole opening up over the Arctic

Satellite spots new ozone laye...
A graphical representation of a hole in the ozone layer over the Arctic
A graphical representation of a hole in the ozone layer over the Arctic
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A graphical representation of a hole in the ozone layer over the Arctic
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A graphical representation of a hole in the ozone layer over the Arctic

Although a hole in the ozone layer might sound like a decidedly retro environmental issue, it’s still a problem today. Most eyes are fixed on the skies over Antarctica, but now scientists have spotted the biggest ozone layer hole in at least 25 years forming over the Arctic.

The ozone layer protects Earth from the worst of the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation, but in the 1980s a hole in this layer was discovered over Antarctica. The main culprit was found to be chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), chemicals that were common in aerosols and refrigerants at the time. In response, the Montreal Protocol required countries to phase out CFCs, and the hole has been steadily shrinking for decades.

It’s not just a static hole, though – its size fluctuates with the seasons. It peaks in October, as Antarctica comes out of its winter and starts to warm up. The extra sunlight means more UV radiation, which combines with extremely cold temperatures, certain wind field patterns and lingering CFCs to kick off the depletion process once again.

The Arctic goes through a similar cycle, with ozone levels that fluctuate over the course of a year. But because temperatures don’t get quite as cold there as they do in Antarctica, there was never that serious a hole in the ozone layer around the North Pole. Until now, anyway.

Scientists from the German Aerospace Center have recently spotted an unusually strong drop in ozone levels over the Arctic. Since March 14, levels have plummeted to less than 220 Dobson Units, which constitutes an “ozone hole.”

The discovery was made using data gathered by the Tropomi instrument onboard ESA’s Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite.

At its largest, this Arctic ozone hole extends over an area of almost one million km2 (400,000 mi2). That makes it the biggest seen there since continuous records began in 1995. That said, it’s still very small compared to the Antarctic ozone hole, which can reach sizes of 20 to 25 million km2 (7.7 to 9.7 million mi2).

The team says that this huge Arctic ozone loss is due to unusually strong winds trapping cold air inside the polar vortex at the North Pole. It won’t stick around for long though – the researchers say that it should heal itself by mid-April. Still, it’ll warrant further observation in case it becomes an annual occurrence.

An animation of the changing ozone levels over the Arctic can be seen in the video below.

Ozone hole over the Arctic

Source: ESA

6 comments
aksdad
So... that whole CFCs-causing-Antarctic-ozone-hole thing was overblown? Nature just does its thing sometimes? Oh, and apparently the unprecedented-Arctic-warming is on hiatus. A two-fer-one deal. Didn't see that coming.

Maybe we should get a handle on our compulsion to blame natural events on humans. Pretty much every culture in history has done it. Used to be "the Gods are angry with us." Now we couch it in an aura of scienceyness, but it's the same thing: "nature is angry with us." Maybe nature just does what it wants, randomly.

and it's not "the Gods are angry's" modern replacement, "nature is angry at humans
paul314
Or perhaps the change in wind patterns is related to exactly the human-associated climate change that some fools are denying.
Pablo
The sky is falling... again. I wonder what will get banned this time around, Kleenex? There are still many countries one can walk into a hardware store and buy R12 off the shelf, but since the US, Europe and some other countries have moved to new, patented refrigerants that cost 10 or more times as much, miracle of miracles, the Antarctic hole has all but disappeared -at least from the media. And that wasn't going to happen for 50,000 years, if ever. I don't believe the scientists who write these papers are the least bit involved with promoting those new patented (read, wonderful profits for 17 years) refrigerants, but the manufacturers sure jump in with both feet. And there are finally a few new applications for truly ozone safe refrigerants being used, in spite of their flammable nature. Ammonia worked just fine, and occurs in nature in massive quantities... (and most of the stories of it killing anyone are vastly exaggerated)
Nahor
@aksdad, natural events and man-made ones are not mutually exclusive. One doesn't preclude the other. Shirking human responsibility because nature does it too is shortsighted. Instead you should think "nature already does it, maybe we shouldn't make it worse by adding a human factor to it".
Douglas Rogers
The Rio Accord got rid of CFC's and the Montreal Protocol got rid of HCFC's.
ljaques
OMG,WEREALLGONNADIEAGAINAGAIN! Burning at the stake this time, it seems from all the UV rads. Thank God for all the Bill Nye (Not Even A Science Guy) types out there for this important info on what we're doing wrong again. The scienceyness is amazing! Oh, wait, they didn't tell us what we were doing wrong this time yet, did they? Well, I'm not worried. They'll blame someone soon, I'm sure, and nail the taxpayers of the world to pay for the next non-fix for Mother Nature's little quirks. If there is a change in wind patterns, I'm certain it can be honestly attributed to the hot air from climate alarmists everywhere. I'll just continue denying their airy claims while continuing to use less, recycle, repurpose, add solar, drive less, insulate my home, use well water, and use my septic tank gently.