Plugging an ozone hole

April 14, 2014

CAMBRIDGE, Mass-- Since the discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole, scientists, policymakers, and the public have wondered whether we might someday see a similarly extreme depletion of ozone over the Arctic.

But a new MIT study finds some cause for optimism: Ozone levels in the Arctic haven't yet sunk to the extreme lows seen in Antarctica, in part because international efforts to limit ozone-depleting chemicals have been successful.

"While there is certainly some depletion of Arctic ozone, the extremes of Antarctica so far are very different from what we find in the Arctic, even in the coldest years," says Susan Solomon, the Ellen Swallow Richards Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Climate Science at MIT, and lead author of a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Frigid temperatures can spur ozone loss because they create prime conditions for the formation of polar stratospheric clouds. When sunlight hits these clouds, it sparks a reaction between chlorine from chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), human-made chemicals once used for refrigerants, foam blowing, and other applications -- ultimately destroying ozone.

"A success story of science and policy"

After the ozone-attacking properties of CFCs were discovered in the 1980s, countries across the world agreed to phase out their use as part of the 1987 Montreal Protocol treaty. While CFCs are no longer in use, those emitted years ago remain in the atmosphere. As a result, atmospheric concentrations have peaked and are now slowly declining, but it will be several decades before CFCs are totally eliminated from the environment -- meaning there is still some risk of ozone depletion caused by CFCs.

"It's really a success story of science and policy, where the right things were done just in time to avoid broader environmental damage," says Solomon, who made some of the first measurements in Antarctica that pointed toward CFCs as the primary cause of the ozone hole.

To obtain their findings, the researchers used balloon and satellite data from the heart of the ozone layer over both polar regions. They found that Arctic ozone levels did drop significantly during an extended period of unusual cold in the spring of 2011. While this dip did depress ozone levels, the decrease was nowhere near as drastic as the nearly complete loss of ozone in the heart of the layer seen in many years in Antarctica.

The MIT team's work also helps to show chemical reasons for the differences, demonstrating that ozone loss in Antarctica is closely associated with reduced levels of nitric acid in air that is colder than that in the Arctic.

"We'll continue to have cold years with extreme Antarctic ozone holes for a long time to come," Solomon says. "We can't be sure that there will never be extreme Arctic ozone losses in an unusually cold future year, but so far, so good -- and that's good news."
Audrey Resutek, Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Related Ozone Articles from Brightsurf:

Investigating the causes of the ozone levels in the Valderejo Nature Reserve
The UPV/EHU's Atmospheric Research Group (GIA) has presented a database comprising over 60 volatile organic compounds (VOC) measured continuously over the last ten years in the Valderejo Nature Reserve (Álava, Basque Country).

FSU Research: Despite less ozone pollution, not all plants benefit
Policies and new technologies have reduced emissions of precursor gases that lead to ozone air pollution, but despite those improvements, the amount of ozone that plants are taking in has not followed the same trend, according to Florida State University researchers.

Iodine may slow ozone layer recovery
Air pollution and iodine from the ocean contribute to damage of Earth's ozone layer.

Ozone threat from climate change
We know the recent extreme heat is something that we can expect more of as a result of increasing temperatures due to climate change.

Super volcanic eruptions interrupt ozone recovery
Strong volcanic eruptions, especially when a super volcano erupts, will have a strong impact on ozone, and might interrupt the ozone recovery processes.

How severe drought influences ozone pollution
From 2011 to 2015, California experienced its worst drought on record, with a parching combination of high temperatures and low precipitation.

New threat to ozone recovery
A new MIT study, published in Nature Geoscience, identifies another threat to the ozone layer's recovery: chloroform -- a colorless, sweet-smelling compound that is primarily used in the manufacturing of products such as Teflon and various refrigerants.

Ozone hole modest despite optimum conditions for ozone depletion
The ozone hole that forms in the upper atmosphere over Antarctica each September was slightly above average size in 2018, NOAA and NASA scientists reported today.

Increased UV from ozone depletion sterilizes trees
UC Berkeley paleobotanists put dwarf, bonsai pine trees in growth chambers and subjected them to up to 13 times the UV-B radiation Earth experiences today, simulating conditions that likely existed 252 million years ago during the planet's worst mass extinction.

Ozone at lower latitudes is not recovering, despite Antarctic ozone hole healing
The ozone layer -- which protects us from harmful ultraviolet radiation -- is recovering at the poles, but unexpected decreases in part of the atmosphere may be preventing recovery at lower latitudes.

Read More: Ozone News and Ozone Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to