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NASA-led study identifies unprecedented depletion of stratospheric ozone layer above Arctic

A NASA-led study has documented an unprecedented depletion of Earth’s protective ozone layer above the Arctic last winter and spring caused by an unusually prolonged period of extremely low temperatures in the stratosphere.

The study, published online Sunday in the journal Nature, finds the amount of ozone destroyed in the Arctic in 2011 was comparable to that seen in some years in the Antarctic, where an ozone “hole” has formed each spring since the mid 1980s. The stratospheric ozone layer, extending from about 10 to 20 miles (15 to 35 kilometers) above the surface, protects life on Earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.

The Antarctic ozone hole forms when extremely cold conditions, common in the winter Antarctic stratosphere, trigger reactions that convert atmospheric chlorine from human-produced chemicals into forms that destroy ozone. The same ozone-loss processes occur each winter in the Arctic. However, the generally warmer stratospheric conditions there limit the area affected and the time frame during which the chemical reactions occur, resulting in far less ozone loss in most years in the Arctic than in the Antarctic.

To investigate the 2011 Arctic ozone loss, scientists from 19 institutions in nine countries (United States, Germany, The Netherlands, Canada, Russia, Finland, Denmark, Japan and Spain) analyzed a comprehensive set of measurements.

These included daily global observations of trace gases and clouds from NASA’s Aura and CALIPSO spacecraft; ozone measured by instrumented balloons; meteorological data and atmospheric models. The scientists found that at some altitudes, the cold period in the Arctic lasted more than 30 days longer in 2011 than in any previously studied Arctic winter, leading to the unprecedented ozone loss. Further studies are needed to determine what factors caused the cold period to last so long.

Day-to-day temperatures in the 2010-11 Arctic winter did not reach lower values than in previous cold Arctic winters. The difference from previous winters is that temperatures were low enough to produce ozone-destroying forms of chlorine for a much longer time. This implies that if winter Arctic stratospheric temperatures drop just slightly in the future, for example as a result of climate change, then severe Arctic ozone loss may occur more frequently.

—lead author Gloria Manney of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology

The 2011 Arctic ozone loss occurred over an area considerably smaller than that of the Antarctic ozone holes. This is because the Arctic polar vortex, a persistent large-scale cyclone within which the ozone loss takes place, was about 40% smaller than a typical Antarctic vortex. While smaller and shorter-lived than its Antarctic counterpart, the Arctic polar vortex is more mobile, often moving over densely populated northern regions. Decreases in overhead ozone lead to increases in surface ultraviolet radiation, which are known to have adverse effects on humans and other life forms.

Although the total amount of Arctic ozone measured was much more than twice that typically seen in an Antarctic spring, the amount destroyed was comparable to that in some previous Antarctic ozone holes. This is because ozone levels at the beginning of Arctic winter are typically much greater than those at the beginning of Antarctic winter.

Manney said that without the 1989 Montreal Protocol, an international treaty limiting production of ozone-depleting substances, chlorine levels already would be so high that an Arctic ozone hole would form every spring. The long atmospheric lifetimes of ozone-depleting chemicals already in the atmosphere mean that Antarctic ozone holes, and the possibility of future severe Arctic ozone loss, will continue for decades.

Resources

  • Gloria L. Manney, Michelle L. Santee, Markus Rex, Nathaniel J. Livesey, Michael C. Pitts, Pepijn Veefkind, Eric R. Nash, Ingo Wohltmann, Ralph Lehmann, Lucien Froidevaux, Lamont R. Poole, Mark R. Schoeberl, David P. Haffner, Jonathan Davies, Valery Dorokhov, Hartwig Gernandt, Bryan Johnson, Rigel Kivi, Esko Kyrö, Niels Larsen, Pieternel F. Levelt, Alexander Makshtas, C. Thomas McElroy, Hideaki Nakajima, Maria Concepción Parrondo et al. (2011) Unprecedented Arctic ozone loss in 2011. Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature10556

Comments

HarveyD

Less ozone = more ultra violet light = more skin cancers.

Coupled with more and more industrial junk food containing adverse chemicals and many other man-made pollution in what we eat, breath and drink; our children's health and shorter life expectancy (in good health) will become a source of major problem. Treatments will be extremely costly. Our four local children's hospitals are already full with children very sick with industrial related incurable diseases.

Roger Pham

Totally agree with you, HD.

Reel$$

So, um, the US stopped using CFCs way back 34 years ago in 1977. According consensus theory it was man made CFCs that was causing the ozone hole over the Antarctic.

Today, 34 years later, the ozone hole over Antarctica is the same or sometimes larger, and this new depletion has appeared over the Arctic! Huh?? The storied Montreal Protocol has been in place for 20+ years to no apparent effect? This is a case where "consensus science" appears to fail. Now, watch the alarmists swarm to defend them.

The science is complex but one thing we do know, there is FAR more naturally occurring chlorine species injected into the atmosphere (lower and upper)than man-made CFC-derived chlorine. Maybe these ozone depletions are due to natural variation, hmm?

jeffa

From the article:
"The long atmospheric lifetimes of ozone-depleting chemicals already in the atmosphere mean that Antarctic ozone holes, and the possibility of future severe Arctic ozone loss, will continue for decades."

Atmosheric Co2 takes what? 50 to 60 years to cycle thru?

Ozone killing chemicals may be similar. When I see articles such as this, for some reason my thoughts go to China and the amount of goodies being pumped in the air over there and wonder if anyone has any real idea of what and how much.

Engineer-Poet

A quick search doesn't turn up firm figures, but the lifespan of CFCs in the atmosphere is "tens to hundreds of years".

Reel$$

The science is complex but one thing we do know, there is FAR more naturally occurring chlorine species injected into the atmosphere (lower and upper)than man-made CFC-derived chlorine.

Calling into question the role of CFCs at all.

ai_vin

Reel is half right. There is FAR more naturally occurring chlorine species injected into the atmosphere than man-made CFC-derived chlorine. But this is only true of the lower atmosphere. Naturally occurring chlorine species are too easily broken down and washed out of the air while the man-made CFCs were engineered to be stable. By the time they reach the ozone layer the naturally occurring chlorine species are only 18% of the chlorine sources and man-made chemicals are 82%.

Reel$$

ai_vin relies on the musings of ozone depletion theorist Sherwood Rowland and camp to deny the arrival of natural chlorine in the stratosphere. Rowland claims observed volume of some 600M tons of natural chlorine species from ocean biota, evaporation, biomass fires, volcanoes never reach the stratosphere! Only man-made (-1500 tons) CFCs do. Huh? Bad man!

Sherwood says all these millions of tons of chlorine somehow (magically?) fall back to earth before reaching the stratosphere. Huh?? Yep, rain does it mostly (forget storms that push emissions into strat.) Even where it doesn't rain?

Sherwood blocks his ears when you explain that in the Antarctic the stratosphere descends to about 5,000 M. Low! Active volcano Mt. Erebus is 4,000M and releases 7700-25900 tonnes of SO2, 6600-13300 tonnes of HCl and 4000-6000 tonnes of HF annually! Eeek! But, hey, wherever possible blame atmospheric shite on man because well, that's your agenda, right?

Reel$$

The recalcitrant despot alarmists need to take inventory of themselves and their thoroughly failed agenda. As even Joe Romm acknowledges many "progressives" know climate is a loser issue. And its utter failure has set back honest concerns about clean air and water.

At the risk of lecturing - see where dishonesty and fabrication of science has taken us?? I AM an environmentalist and conservationist - and I am disgusted at what this corrupt campaign has done to legitimate concerns to steward Earth's resources. Restate your handle to REgressives and kindly explain how you're going to make amends for time and money lost.

ai_vin

Ah Reel, I didn't need the "musings" of Sherwood Rowland to come up with those percentages. You do know that they routinely fly air sampling missions to the stratosphere, don't you? It's not theory, it's direct measurements taken from decades of NASA U-2 and high altitude balloon flights.

jeffa

And jet fuel does nothing, right?

ai_vin

If you're thinking the aircraft contaminated the measurements may I remind you: Sampling probes up front - jet engines in back. Normally most jets don't fly above the tropopause.

Engineer-Poet

I wish Michael would just ban the resident trolls and be done with them.

Reel$$

Better not to have to think that way;)

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