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Hole In Arctic Ozone Larger Than Ever Before

The hole in the Arctic ozone is larger than ever before, Nature journal reports.

The hole in the ozone, purple area above, is larger than ever before, Nature journal reports.

The ozone layer over the Northern Hemisphere is offering less protection than ever before, the journal Nature reports in the issue published on 2 October.  Researchers discovered that the hole that developed over the Arctic this year was about two million square kilometers in size, similar to the hole that appears each spring over the Antarctic.

The ozone layer was discovered in 1913.  It is located in the stratosphere, between 10 to 20 miles above the Earth’s surface, where it absorbs most of the sun’s high frequency ultraviolet light.  Holes in the ozone layer are thought to expose people below to greater levels of cancer and cataract-causing UV radiation.  Nature’s study shows that people in Norway, Greenland, and areas of northern Russia were most at risk.

Most holes in the ozone layer are thought to be human-caused, a result of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other free radicals that were released on Earth and traveled up to the stratosphere.  Solar radiation causes these chemicals to degrade into more simple chemicals, and it is those chemicals that damage the ozone layer.  However, The Guardian reports that the hole was not directly human-caused, but instead a function of unusually strong wind action and cold conditions at high altitudes.  Cold conditions exacerbate ozone degradation, and measurements taken on spacecraft found that the cold period in the Arctic lasted an additional 30 days this year.

Holes in the ozone layer are not yet permanent.  Scientists have recorded events where up to 70% of the ozone layer was destroyed, and yet it was able to recover in the following months.  However, some holes occur regularly, and the concern is that the spread of the Arctic hole could start to occur annually, like the one in the Antarctic that has been closely monitored since the 1980’s.

Gloria Manney, the study’s lead author, believes the results are concerning.  “If winter Arctic stratospheric temperatures drop just slightly in the future, for example as a result of climate change, then severe arctic loss may occur more frequently,” she said.

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