The Hole in the Antarctic Ozone Layer Is Starting to Heal

By Nathaniel Scharping | June 30, 2016 2:51 pm

A false-color image showing ozone concentrations above Antarctica on Oct. 2, 2015. (Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center)

There may finally be some good climate news.

A paper published today in Science details the the first strong evidence that the hole in the ozone layer is beginning to heal. In 1987, the Montreal Protocol banned the class of ozone-gobbling chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in developed countries around the world, and it appears that the policy is, perhaps, starting to pay off. Since 2000, the hole has shrunk by some 1.5 million square miles and could close completely by the middle of the century, according to the researchers.

Past the Tipping Point

Led by Susan Solomon from MIT, the team of researchers combined data from satellites and weather balloons stationed in Antarctica to measure levels of ozone and CFCs in the atmosphere. They found that the levels of CFCs have stopped increasing, and there are signs that the ozone layer is trending toward its pre-1980 benchmark levels. They say that this trend matches well with computer simulations that predict ozone layer health given reduced CFC emissions.

The North America-sized gap in the ozone layer hovers invisibly over the Antarctic, serving as a constant reminder of our influence on the environment. The ozone layer protects life on earth from the sun’s harmful UV radiation, which would damage our eyes and skin if allowed to shine through unfiltered. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, banning CFCs could prevent 2 million cases of skin cancer annually by 2030.

Not Worse, Probably Better

In the study, Solomon analyzed data from the year 2000 to 2015, focusing on the months of September and October, when the hole in the ozone layer reaches its greatest extent. Cold air in the Antarctic aids in the formation of stratospheric clouds, which, along with sunlight, are necessary for chlorine to react with and destroy the ozone layer. Solomon showed that as chlorine levels in the ozone layer in September — when the hole starts to open — started to fall, the rate at which the hole grew also slowed.

Data for October, the month when the hole is traditionally largest, are still too scattered for the researchers to identify a trend in an increase of ozone levels. The observed size of the hole in the ozone layer during September, however, decreased reliably between 2000 — when the hole reached its greatest extent — and 2014. This provides strong evidence that the wound is closing and headed in the direction of recovery. The researchers published their paper Thursday in Science.

Causes Hard to Pin Down

Controlling for everything but the influence of reduced CFCs revealed only a small upward trend in increased ozone levels. Incorporating other factors into the model left Solomon with wild year-to-year swings in ozone levels that are still largely unexplained. Volcanoes are one clear factor in regulating ozone levels, but seasonal weather patterns and other so-called “dynamical factors” also influence ozone levels in ways that researchers still don’t entirely understand. In 2015, for example, the hole grew to record size, but Solomon attributed that to the Calbuco volcano eruption in Chile.

Paul Newman, the chief scientist for atmospheric sciences at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, agrees that things appear to be headed in the right direction.

“We see that things are getting better … we understand why things are high, we understand why things are low, but we don’t understand why there’s a trend in the dynamics,” says Newman. “Our models tell us … that if you reduce ozone-depleting substances, the ozone hole will start going away — there’s no controversy about that,” says Newman. “It’s the attempt to attribute the trends that we see to ozone-depleting substances that’s tough. There’s this dynamical contribution that we don’t quite understand yet.”

The inherent complexity involved in parsing out trends in meteorological data makes it difficult to pin down exactly how the Montreal Protocol has affected this swing in the right direction. But what is clear is that the hole in the ozone layer, which was once growing at a worrying pace, has begun to show signs of healing. And that’s something we can all celebrate.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts
  • Uncle Al

    The Hole in the Antarctic Ozone Layer is Starting to Heal” “In 2015, for example, the hole grew to record size” No.

    “you’re going to be able to buy insurance through a pool so that you can get the same good rates as a group that if you’re an employee at a big company you can get right now.” President Barack Hussein Obama II, 16 July 2012.

    • OWilson

      You’re taking about a criminally negligent organization that can’t do a website, lose their emails, and have no clue about simple back up files, which all insurance companies are routinely requires to keep for at least 7 years.

      You expect THEM to lower the cost non anything?

      • Uncle Al

        You describe climatology and Crisis of Character by Byrne – promises, mechanisms, costs, results, “unintended consequences;” government armed terror against its own polity.

        The above post bleeds empirical contradictions. It’s not even propaganda. “Das ist nicht nur nicht richtig, es ist nicht einmal falsch!, Wolfgang Pauli.

        (Amazon is massively shipping Byrne’s book, including my copy. I may buy a dedicated gun that I can maintain possession of said book after 20 January 2017.)

  • OWilson

    The Ozone Hole has “healed”. But the “Earth has a fever”.

    I think they should tighten up the academic requirements for Planet Doctors. Maybe an online first aid course.

    They sound like quacks! :)

    And, like all quacks, the “cures” they flog are inevitably expensive :)

    • Mike Richardson

      Actually, this shows the benefit of accepting scientific fact, addressing a problem, and acknowledging the improvement. Now if some of us could just make this same kind of progress with regards to accepting greenhouse gas emissions as a problem, and work towards more sustainable growth and energy production. Good news. :)

      • OWilson

        It must be warm and fuzzy feeling for a government employee to pass on the “good news” from the likes of Obama and Hillary.

        You would have been quite at home reporting on the USSR’s latest 5 year Agricultural Plan :)

        • Mike Richardson

          Lol… Nice, no logical or factual statement you can use to rebut the fact that action taken based on the scientific knowledge provided worked in the case of the ozone hole, and could also avoid the worst case scenarios with climate change. Instead, the typical hyperpartisan rhetoric. Some things never change. Well, I’m enjoying my warm and fuzzy feelings and my right to express them on my nation’s birthday. Have a few warm and fuzzy ones — or cold and fizzy, yourself, my man. :)

          • OWilson

            Hey pat yourself on the back some more.

            Obama promised you guys when he was elected, “The Oceans would cease to rise, and the planet would begin to heal”.

            Well, guess what? The planet has been cooling for 3 straight months now, so his concern, raised awareness and caring, is obviously having some effect :) You just have to believe :)

            (On another note, our erstwhile IMAGEO doomsday planet boiler, who follows global warming almost daily, has not posted for a month or so now, so he’s probably a little confused :)

          • Mike Richardson

            3 months, eh? Well, now that’s a major climate trend, right? Lol … Must be that mini-ice age you’ve been betting on. And then there’s that guy predicting that “magnetic forcings” from the outer planets are the major climate drivers — sure you don’t wanna hop back on that BBQ bandwagon? 😉 As for Tom, perhaps you should more openly share your opinion of him, rather than repeating your pattern of sideways insults and insincere apologies. But unlike the climate or the ozone hole, I don’t really see much likelihood of your behavior changing, no matter what facts are brought to bear. Oh well, better go stock up on the extra firewood for the coming freeze. :)

          • OWilson

            Say hello to Hillary for us :)

          • Mike Richardson

            Glad to see your typical substance free response. Gets a little tiresome, being wrong so often, eh? But to point out yet another incorrect comment, you do make those apologies on Imageo all the time, when you get called for going just a little too far with your incivility. But a good parasite never provokes a rejection reaction from the host, right? I look forward to further politically partisan science free comments, with the gratuitous insults at fellow posters and moderators alike. I know you won’t disappoint. :)

          • OWilson

            Can’t stay way from me though, can you Mikey?

            I get that nobody else here wants to talk to you or give you the time of day.

            It’s OK, sometimes I’ll respond, but not today!


  • zlop

    People are vitamin D deficient.
    Bigger O3 holes are needed?

  • jcblankjr

    Where’s Al Gore when you need him!!! I’m sure he will (for a fee, of course) reverse this situation. Oh, wait. This is a good situation. Another inconvenient truth. That’s OK, for a fee, Big Al will demonize any climate change

    • Lorie Franceschi

      Isn’t he related to Slick Willy?

      • jcblankjr

        Like brothers from other mothers, so to say. Their ethical, moral and political standards were spawned in the same sewer. But, even Monica Lewinsky wouldn’t have anything to do with Al.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar