While technology often creates products that in turn create problems, technology can also offer solutions to those problems.
Researchers may have recently found the first clear sign that a thinning ozone layer over Antarctica is beginning to heal, likely as a result of environmentally friendly legislation passed thirty years prior.
According to the scientists involved, in September 2015 the hole spanned four million square kilometers fewer than it did at the turn of the century. That accounts to a healed area of ozone about the size of India.
The hole’s shrinking status has been attributed to legislation that phased out ozone-destroying chemicals over the course of decades. The scientist’s study also reveals the surprisingly drastic effects of volcanoes, which substantially worsen the issue of climate change.
Holes in the ozone layer spell disaster for most forms of life on Earth; without a constant level of ozone to protect the Earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation, the overall temperature of the Earth will rise and throw many ecosystems into wack. For humans in the short term, a reduced ozone layer means increased chances of skin cancer, cataract damage, and general harm to humans and the many environmental processes they rely on to continue with their preferred way of life.
The ozone’s replenishment today owes largely to the research of whistle-blowing scientists whose most important work was done in the 1980’s. That’s when British scientists noticed a dramatic thinning of ozone in the stratosphere 10 kilometers above Antarctica. Then in 1986, US-based researcher Susan Solomon demonstrated that the ozone was being destroyed by the presence of molecules containing chlorine and bromine that came from chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs. At the time, the gases were found in hairsprays, refrigerators, air conditioning units and many more commonly used products.
Antarctica was particularly at risk of ozone thinning because of the climate’s extreme cold and huge amounts of light. These factors contribute to the production of Polar Stratospheric Clouds that enable the chlorine chemistry that in turn destroys the ozone.
Luckily for the future generations, the warnings derived from these discoveries were well-heeded by members of the Montreal Protocol in 1987. Since the signing of that treaty and the phasing out of CFC use, the situation in Antarctica has slowly begun to improve.
While several studies have revealed the declining influence of CFCs in the atmosphere, the researchers behind this newest study claim that their results constitute the “first fingerprints of healing” and that the ozone layer is actually growing.
Professor Susan Solomon and her colleagues, including researchers from the University of Leeds in the UK, have been carefully watching and researching the mount of ozone in the stratosphere between the years 2000 and 2015. Their data, which were collected in weather balloons, satellites and model simulations, demonstrated that the thinning of the ozone had declined by 4 million sq km over the 15-year stretch. They also were able to conclude that at least half of this shrinking could be attributed to the reduction in atmospheric chlorine.
“Even though we phased out the production of CFCs in all countries including India and China around the year 2000, there’s still a lot of chlorine left in the atmosphere,” warned Professor Solomon. “It has a lifetime of about 50-100 years, so it’s starting to slowly decay and the ozone will slowly recover… We don’t expect to see a complete recovery until about 2050 or 2060 but we are starting to see that in September the ozone hole is not as bad as it used to be.”