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Our Ozone Hole is Still Shrinking, Says NASA

Oct 31, 2014 12:38 PM EDT
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There's a big hole in our ozone right over the Antarctic right now, and it's slightly bigger than last year. However, according to NASA data, this hole is still significantly smaller than it was a decade ago and is likely going to keep shrinking.

The ozone layer is an exceptionally important part of the Earth's atmosphere that shields life from potentially harmful ultraviolet radiation that can cause skin cancer and damage plants. Not too long ago, it was discovered that there are a number of chemical substances that can harm the ozone, tearing holes in its fabric and endangering the planet.

That's why in 1987, the Montreal Protocol oversaw an international regulation of ozone depleting substances such as chlorine-containing chlorofluorocarbons and bromine-containing halons. However, the damage had already been done. By the year 2000, a massive hole in the ozone was seen by NASA satellite imagery to stretch for 29.9 million square kilometers (11.5 million square miles) over the South Pole.

However, new data has shown that since that time, the ozone hole has been shrinking. This year alone boasted an annual peak hole size of only 24.1 million square kilometers (9.3 million square miles) - significantly smaller than ozone holes between 1998 and 2006. This can in part be due to the protocol, in which current surveys of the atmosphere show significantly lower concentrations of ozone harming chemicals.

Interestingly, according to NASA, this could also be thanks to a warming net climate.

"Year-to-year weather variability significantly impacts Antarctica ozone because warmer stratospheric temperatures can reduce ozone depletion," Paul A. Newman, chief scientist for atmospheres at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a recent release. "The ozone hole area is smaller than what we saw in the late-1990s and early 2000s, and we know that chlorine levels are decreasing."

"However," he added, "we are still uncertain about whether a long-term Antarctic stratospheric temperature warming might be reducing this ozone depletion."

This is a mystery that NASA and other agencies around the world will continue to look into, asserting the importance of understanding just what influences the ebb of ozone deterioration.

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