The ozone layer protects life on our planet by absorbing harmful ultraviolet light. In the 1980s, scientists began to understand Earth’s natural shield was beginning to dramatically thin over the South Pole every spring.
This worrying phenomenon above the Antarctic South Pole continent has come to be known as the ozone hole.
We have a long way to go, but that improvement made a big difference this year
And NOAA and NASA researchers have confirmed how continually cool temperatures and strong winds have led to a huge Antarctic ozone hole remaining for most of this year.
September 2020 saw the ozone hole reach its peak size of 9.6 million square miles (24.8 million square km) – approximately three times the size of the continental US.
Ozone layer experts also detected an almost total elimination of the chemical compound for several weeks in a four mile ( six km) high column of the stratosphere close to the geographic South Pole.
A map supplied by NASA reveals the true scale and proportions of the ozone hole over the South Pole late last month – the day believed to be when the hole was its largest.
The two agencies are collaborating in tandem to keep tabs on the ozone hole using complementary instrumental methods.
A trio of satellites is responsible for measuring Earth’s ozone hole: NASA’s Aura, the NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP and NOAA’s JPSS NOAA-20.
The year 2020 worryingly witnessed the arrival of the 12th-largest ozone hole in 40 years of satellite monitoring.
And the year also saw the 14th-lowest ozone readings in 33 years data acquired from balloons floating over Antarctica.
However, experts added how ongoing declines in the atmospheric concentration of ozone-depleting chemicals have prevented the hole from being as large as it could have been under the same weather conditions 20 years ago.
Dr Paul Newman, an ozone layer expert and the chief Earth scientist at NASA, said: “From the year 2000 peak, Antarctic stratosphere chlorine and bromine levels have fallen about 16 percent towards the natural level.
“We have a long way to go, but that improvement made a big difference this year.
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“The hole would have been about a million square miles larger if there was still as much chlorine in the stratosphere as there was in 2000.”
This year represents a significant U-turn from 2019, where warmer temperatures in Earth’s atmosphere combined with a particularly weak polar vortex to hinder the formation of polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs).
Particles in PSCs are known to be able to activate chlorine and bromine compounds that destroy the protective chemical compound.
Last year’s ozone hole was the smallest since data began to be systematically collated, which saw the hole growing to 6.3 million square miles (16.4 million square km) in September last year.
Dr Susan Strahan, a scientist with NASA Goddard, said: “This clear contrast between last year and this year shows how meteorology affects the size of the ozone hole.
In good news for this monitoring climate change, atmospheric levels of ozone-depleting substances increased up to the year 2000.
Since then, they have slowly declined, although they remain in high enough quantities to produce significant seasonal ozone losses.
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Ozone depletion, Antarctica, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Ozone Layer
World news – GB – Antarctica ozone hole MAPPED: NASA warns ‘we have a long way to go’