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The Newest And Largest-Ever Arctic Ozone Hole Has Suddenly Closed Up

arctic ozone hole

An ozone hole that formed over the Arctic this spring and rapidly grew to a record-breaking size has closed.

Contrary to common assumptions, scientists observing the hole at Copernicus’ Atmospheric Monitoring Service (CAMS) announced last week that the “unprecedented” and “rather unusual” hole was caused by nature, not human activity.

According to CAMS, the hole covering an area about three times the size of Greenland was caused by a particularly strong Arctic polar vortex.

CAMS tweeted “basically it was caused by an unusually strong and long-lived polar vortex, and has ended because that polar vortex ended.”

So no, unfortunately, this does not mean that forgoing the stressful commute to your office in favor of peacefully working from home for the rest of your career will necessarily heal the ozone.

CAMS tweeted Sunday, ”Actually, COVID19 and the associated lockdowns probably had nothing to do with this.”

Ozone levels above the Arctic this past March reached a record low. The last time ozone was so severely depleted was nearly a decade ago in 2011, and before that, in 1997.

Because the event of the hole’s forming and closing, and the fact of its massive size, is so out of the ordinary, researchers at CAMS do not expect conditions like this to reoccur next year.

According to the National Weather Service, a polar vortex is a large area of low pressure and cold air that surrounds both of Earth’s poles.

These zones always exist but wear down during summer when it is warm, and become strong again in the winter.

Because Arctic ozone levels are typically high during warmer months like March and April, Paul Newman, chief scientist for Earth Sciences at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center expressed concern about the oversized hole in a mid-April press release.

But then the hole suddenly closed up and now, experts say “unusual atmospheric conditions” wherein industrial chemicals interacting with high-altitude clouds at unusually low temperatures led to its formation.

The European Space Agency said that as temperatures rose toward the end of April, the Arctic polar vortex broke down, allowing ozone-depleted air to mix with ozone-rich air from lower latitudes.

“We don’t know what caused the wave dynamics to be weak this year,” Newman said. “But we do know that if we hadn’t stopped putting chlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere because of the Montreal Protocol, the Arctic depletion this year would have been much worse.”

The Montreal Protocol, signed by 197 countries in 1987, specified that industry phase out chemicals like chlorofluorocarbons that damage the ozone. The legislation has contributed to a decrease in the size of the famous hole over Antarctica.

Without policies outlined by the Montreal Protocol, the hole that opened up this year could have posed a public health threat.

The good news is that the ozone hole is now closed, and perhaps, in one way or another, Earth’s atmosphere is healing.

CAMS posted an explainer video and said in a tweet “… there’s hope: the ozone layer is also healing, but slowly.”

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