Tuesday, 02 March, 2021


South Pole’s ozone hole shrinks to smallest since discovery

This image made available by NASA shows a map of a hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica on Sunday Oct. 20 2019. The purple and blue colors indicate the least amount of ozone and the yellows and reds show the most. In October 2019 NASA says the ozon South Pole’s ozone hole shrinks to smallest since discovery
Kristine Garrett | 23 October, 2019, 10:56

According to the United States space agency NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the ozone layer's hole has shrunk for the first time since 1982.

The 2019 hole hit its maximum size of 6.3 million square miles (16.4 million square kilometers) on September 8.

"It's great news for ozone in the Southern Hemisphere", said Paul Newman, chief scientist for Earth Sciences at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in a statement on NASA's website.

"But it's important to recognise that what we're seeing this year is due to warmer stratospheric temperatures". These compounds can last for several decades in the atmosphere and are extremely damaging to ozone during that time, breaking it down in huge quantities. Ozone is a molecule that occurs naturally in small amounts that is comprised of three oxygen atoms.

The ozone layer is a region of Earth's stratosphere with a high concentration of a gas called ozone that helps to shield the planet from the Sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Taking action to reduce the amount of CFCs in the atmosphere has had a real impact. The chemical reactions are encouraged by polar stratospheric cloud formation, but in recent years, warmer stratospheric air has helped limit these reactions and curtailed the growth of the ozone hole. In warmer temperatures fewer polar stratospheric clouds form and they don't persist as long, limiting the ozone-depletion process.

NASA and NOAA explain that the ozone hole consists of an area of heavily-depleted ozone in the upper reaches of the stratosphere.

Satellites, including NASA's Aura satellite, the NASA-NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite and NOAA's Joint Polar Satellite System NOAA-20 satellite, measure ozone from space. This also helped to boost ozone levels there. In a divergence from the norm, NOAA reports that there were no areas above the frozen continent this year that completely lacked ozone.

While scientists are still trying to make sense of it, it's believed to be down to unusual weather patterns in the upper atmosphere. Similar patterns were seen in 1988 and 2002. Scientist Susan Strahan says that if global warming had not happened, we would probably have a more typical ozone hole.

Warmer air weakened the Antarctic polar vortex, a current of high-speed air circling the South Pole that typically keeps the coldest air near or over the pole itself, which slowed significantly (from an average wind speed of 161 miles per hour / 260 kmph to 67 miles per hour / 107 kmph).

The slowing vortex allowed air to sink in the lower stratosphere, where it warmed the air and inhibited cloud formation. A plot of ozone levels shows small but definite increases in the minimum level of ozone detected by the TOMS (Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer) since the mid-1990s. So, the ozone hole over Antarctica tends to be much bigger in the southern winter.

However, such patterns can be mitigated under usually high temperatures.

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