The Ozone Hole is Healing!

Remember the Ozone Hole? It was one of the big environmental problems of the 20th century that seemed to go along with all the other reasons that our planet was in trouble. It was a reason all we light-skinned people, especially the Aussies, were going to get skin cancer and cataracts. According to the Ozone Hole website, the ozone hole of 2006, over Antarctica, was the biggest ever:

The 2006 ozone hole over Antarctica (Photo credit: NASA)
The 2006 ozone hole: big, blue, and scary (Photo credit: NASA)

So what is ozone and why is a hole in it bad?

Ozone is a gas made up of three oxygen atoms, with the chemical formula O3. (The normal oxygen we need to breathe is O2). It occurs naturally in small amounts in the upper atmosphere (also known as the stratosphere) and forms a thin layer covering the entire planet. This stratospheric ozone layer (“good ozone”) protects life on Earth from the Sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Near the Earth’s surface, however, ozone is created locally by chemical reactions between air pollutants. High concentrations of ozone down here on the ground are toxic (“bad ozone”). The Ozone Hole is a thinning of the layer of protective “good ozone” that allows too much UV radiation to reach Earth’s surface.

Why did the layer get thinner?

Some chemicals that were used in spray cans and in air conditioners and refrigerators contain chlorine and bromine atoms, and these atoms are released when the chemicals come into contact with UV light. Then, when these chlorine and bromine atoms drift up into the stratosphere and encounter the ozone layer, they destroy it. A single chlorine atom can destroy over 100,000 ozone molecules. The most common of these ozone-depleting chemicals are called CFCs.

In 1985, the Montreal Protocol regulating CFCs was introduced. This is an international commitment to phase out ozone-depleting chemicals that was ratified by all UN countries. On January 4 of 2018, the first study was published that used measurements of the chemical composition inside the ozone hole to confirm that not only is ozone depletion decreasing, but that the decrease is caused by the reduction in CFCs. In other words, the Montreal Protocol is working! NASA Study: First Direct Proof of Ozone Hole Recovery Due to Chemicals Ban.

This is only a first step and more needs to be done, because CFCs last a long time and the CFCs made in the last century are still around causing trouble in this one. But it is still a good example of how science can influence governments’ decision-making, and how the nations of the world can work together to solve big environmental problems. May our leaders learn from this example!

EarthSculpture

This post is part of the We Are the World Blogfest, a monthly event created by Damyanti Biswas and Belinda Witzenhausen to showcase stories of hope and light. The #WATWB cohosts for this month are:  Shilpa GargSimon FalkLynn HallbrooksEric LahtiDamyanti Biswas and Guilie CastilloPlease link to them in your #WATWB posts and go say hi!

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8 thoughts on “The Ozone Hole is Healing!”

  1. Goes to show that paying attention to science and adjusting actions based on what is known or learned – is smart and can improve things. I despair over the past year’s disregard and disrespect for evidence based science in the current US administration. It does not bode well for us.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Karen – I’m glad to read this and to have your explanation. We just need to be more careful about chemicals … and make a concerted effort to go as natural as possible and not keep buying. It is good news the ozone layer hole is smaller today … cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

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