Time Lapse Video of Ozone Layer Hole in Antarctica Shows Promising Signs of Healing

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Jul 02, 2016 09:35 AM EDT

From September 21-30, 2006 the average area of the ozone hole was the largest ever observed, at 10.6 million square miles (27.5 million square kilometres). This image, from September 24, the Antarctic ozone hole was equal to the record single-day largest area of 11.4 million square miles (29.5 million square kilometres), reached on Sept. 9, 2000. Satellite instruments monitor the ozone layer, and we use their data to create the images that depict the amount of ozone. The blue and purple colors are where there is the least ozone, and the greens, yellows, and reds are where there is more ozone. (Photo : NASA)

Susan Solomon, an atmospheric chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, led the research which was published on Science journal. Solomon said, "It's a big surprise. I didn't think it would be this early."

Montreal Protocol

The ozone hole's healing vindicates and is a testament to the success of the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer in 1987. The global agreement, signed by 193 countries, banned chloroflurocarbon (CFC) production in industries. CFCs were once released by hairspray, refrigerators, dry cleaning, among others.

These harmful aerosols and refrigerants would break down into chlorine, harming the ozone responsible for absorbing incoming UV light and consequently protecting us from radiation that is linked to skin cancer. Because of the Montreal Protocol, companies have developed new chemicals that weren't harmful to the ozone layer.

Since then, Solomon said that the ozone hole is not just reducing in size but is actually healing.

History of the Ozone Hole

The ozone hole was first revealed during the 1950s. The hole reached its biggest size in October 2015, but Solomon and his research team found out this was only due to the fact that Mount Calbuco, a volcano in Chile, erupted during that same time.

Anja Schmidt, co-author of the study, said that "such eruptions are a sporadic source of tiny airborne particles that provide the necessary chemical conditions for the chlorine from CFCs introduced to the atmosphere to react efficiently with ozone in the atmosphere above Antarctica."

In principle, the ozone hole above Antarctica, which is much bigger than the one above the Arctic region, isn't really a hole. It's a huge portion of the stratosphere with below-standard levels of ozone.

What Could Have Happened

A NASA research back in 2009 revealed the kind of destruction Earth would have faced had the Montreal Protocol not been put in place. By the year 2065, Earth would have lost 67 percent of its ozone layer. By this time, a person would get sunburn by just five minutes of sun exposure, and DNA-mutating ultraviolet rays would increase by 650%, increasing skin cancer rates among humans and damaging plants and animals as well.

Dr. David Fahey, a research physicist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said that Susan Solomon's study shows that we are heading in the right direction when it comes to taking care of the ozone.

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