From: NASA
Published October 30, 2015 06:17 AM

2015 Antarctic Ozone Hole larger and formed later than previous holes

The 2015 Antarctic ozone hole area was larger and formed later than in recent years, said scientists from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

On Oct. 2, 2015, the ozone hole expanded to its peak of 28.2 million square kilometers (10.9 million square miles), an area larger than the continent of North America. Throughout October, the hole remained large and set many area daily records. Unusually cold temperature and weak dynamics in the Antarctic stratosphere this year resulted in this larger ozone hole. In comparison, last year the ozone hole peaked at 24.1 million square kilometers (9.3 million square miles) on Sept. 11, 2014. Compared to the 1991-2014 period, the 2015 ozone hole average area was the fourth largest.

“While the current ozone hole is larger than in recent years, the area occupied by this year’s hole is consistent with our understanding of ozone depletion chemistry and consistent with colder than average weather conditions in Earth’s stratosphere, which help drive ozone depletion,” said Paul A. Newman, chief scientist for Earth Sciences at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The ozone hole is a severe depletion of the ozone layer above Antarctica that was first detected in the 1980s. The Antarctic ozone hole forms and expands during the Southern Hemisphere spring (August and September) because of the high levels of chemically active forms of chlorine and bromine in the stratosphere. These chlorine- and bromine-containing molecules are largely derived from man-made chemicals that steadily increased in Earth’s atmosphere up through the early 1990s.

“This year, our balloon-borne instruments measured nearly 100 percent ozone depletion in the layer above South Pole Station, Antarctica, that was 14 to 19 kilometers (9 to 12 miles) above Earth’s surface,” said Bryan Johnson, a researcher at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. “During September we typically see a rapid ozone decline, ending with about 95 percent depletion in that layer by October 1. This year the depletion held on an extra two weeks resulting in nearly 100 percent depletion by October 15." 

The ozone layer helps shield Earth from potentially harmful ultraviolet radiation that can cause skin cancer, cataracts, and suppress immune systems, as well as damage plants. The large size of this year’s ozone hole will likely result in increases of harmful ultraviolet rays at Earth’s surface, particularly in Antarctica and the Southern Hemisphere in the coming months.

Continue reading at NASA.

Ozone hole image via Shutterstock.

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