NASA finds first direct evidence the Ozone Hole is healing

Enlarge  Each year's ozone hole is a little bit

The research spawned the idea that the hole was forming in the ozone layer, and inspired worldwide action.

New satellite data has offered the first direct evidence of a slowdown in ozone depletion.

If CFC concentrations in the stratosphere were not declining, and thus the smaller ozone holes were only due to temperature fluctuations, Strahan and Douglass would have found that the concentrations of HCl and N2O were relatively stable compared to one another.

Susan Strahan and colleagues at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland analyzed data from the Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS) aboard the Aura satellite, which has been taking measurements around the globe since 2004.

"During this period, Antarctic temperatures are always very low, so the rate of ozone destruction depends mostly on how much chlorine there is", Strahan said.

The ozone layer protects the Earth from the sun's ultraviolet radiations which can cause skin cancer and cataracts, supress immune systems and harm plants.

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The worry that we could lose this protective layer led to the adoption of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, which was ratified in 1987. apparently, back when everyone still believed in science and chemical companies had less power. This releases chlorine atoms that destroy ozone gas - a form of oxygen. Reaching a maximum area of 19.6 million km, on September 11, 2017, this was 10 million km smaller than the largest ozone hole ever seen, on September 24, 2006. Currently, the ozone hole above Antarctica is the size of North America, which sounds large.

The new study is the first time anyone accurately measured chlorine levels inside the ozone hole, confirming that the Montreal Protocol is indeed doing its job, says NASA.

Fast forward to 2018, and NASA has now deemed the treaty a success in staving off the demise of the ozone layer.

The findings are based on yearly MLS measurements conducted between 2005 and 2016.

After CFCs were banned, scientists eventually observed that the ozone layer started recovering. But now, NASA scientists wanted to see specifically if the man-made, ozone-destroying chemicals in the atmosphere around the Antarctic ozone hole were declining. By measuring hydrochloric acid levels each fall, scientists were able to gauge the amounts of chlorine in the ozone hole. The reduction in chlorine has led to a decrease in ozone depletion, allowing a slow but steady recovery of the ozone hole.

For example, researchers measured the levels of chlorine, a primary source of ozone depletion, and found it's falling nearly 1 percent a year. "But we're not yet seeing a clear decrease in the size of the ozone hole because that's controlled mainly by temperature after mid-September, which varies a lot from year to year".

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