EcoAlert: Antarctica’s Ozone Hole Healing — Experts Report

IN_RECOVERY In the 80s and 90s, a lot of effort was put into banning chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, a family of organic compounds that like to devour the ozone that's protecting us all from dying of skin cancer. A couple decades later, it appears we're starting to see this proactive environmentalism begin to pay off.

Although CFCs are common and useful chemicals that make great refrigerants, when released into the atmosphere, they can live for a hundred years, tearing ozone molecules apart exposing humans to the Sun's dangerous ultraviolet radiation.

CFCs have been largely banned worldwide for the last 20 years, and the results are beginning to reap rewards: Australian researchers have just recently been able to accurately model complex seasonal weather patterns over the South Pole. For the first time they've been able to accurately estimate the systematic changes in ozone levels over the last few years that shows that the ozone levels are rising, and have improved by 15% since they hit an all-time low in the late 1990s.

This is much need good news for the planet, but it may take another fifty or sixty years or more for everything to get back to normal. Meanwhile, since ozone absorbs heat, the ozone hole over Antarctica has actually been helping to forestall global warming there. However, once the hole eventually heals warming will accelerate dramatically.

Scientists believe that Antarctica’s ozone hole may be on the road to recovery, at least a decade sooner than they thought.

In 1989, an international agreement called the Montreal Protocol began phasing out chemicals that have eaten away at Earth’s protective ozone layer. Most researchers thought it would take until at least 2023 to detect the hole’s slow recovery, but researchers in Australia now claim to have seen ozone ticking upward since the late 1990s.

“The key is to account for large year-to-year fluctuations that have obscured a gradual increase in the long-term evolution of ozone,” says atmospheric scientist Murry Salby of Macquarie University.

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