Words Matter: Ozone Hole Closed
The Earth’s ozone layer is what protects us from ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Unfortunately, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and halons released into the atmosphere interact with the ozone layer. Chemical reactions occur, and ozone molecules are broken down. This is a huge problem since it takes away our protection from those harmful UV rays.These gaps in the ozone layer are known as ozone holes, and they often occur over the Antarctic in combination with the very low temperatures. The Arctic is not subject to the same temperature conditions as the Antarctic, so ozone holes are unexpected. This year, a polar vortex was formed as strong winds centralized colder air, forming clouds at a higher altitude. These clouds combine with pollutants, bromine and chlorine, and supply the conditions for an ozone hole to develop.
And it did. Earlier this year, a hole as big as three times the size of Greenland opened up (according to the European Space Agency). It posed a potential concern to those living in higher latitudes because the higher UV exposure can cause greater risk of skin cancer, cataracts, and sunburns.
Thankfully, due to the summer months, the Arctic receives more sunlight and its temperatures rise. The polar vortex was disrupted and ozone-rich air could replace the gap created.
As for the yearly Antarctic ozone hole, there is no drastic close in the same fashion. Staying on the positive side, the hole is decreasing in size, far better than the alternative of expansion. The World Meteorological Organization reports that it is decreasing by 1-3% each year (from the year 2000) and is the smallest it has ever been since 1980. They predict the closing to take another 30 years, but the possibility still exists. There is a downside that shouldn’t be ignored: the reduction is due to the Earth’s rising temperatures- global warming. So, while it is conflicting to see the environment change around us as the planet’s temperatures rise, ozone depletion is something we don’t have to worry too much about.
Written by: Sonal Mohan
Edited by: Nicole Wilkes
Graphic by: Buse Koldaş