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OUT OF THIS WORLD | Earth, Space and Everything In-Between - a daily journey through weather, space and science with meteorologist/science writer Scott Sutherland

Ozone hole could be closed within 50 years, says UN report

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Tuesday, November 6, 2018, 6:56 PM - Good news! After years of monitoring the ozone layer and Antarctic ozone hole, a new report not only confirms that they're on the mend, but they should be completely healed in less than 50 years!

Back in the late 1970s, we discovered a serious environmental threat. Due to the use of certain chemicals in refrigerators, air conditioners and spray cans, we were damaging Earth's protective ozone layer - the thin layer in the stratosphere that shielded life on the surface from damage due to the more harmful ultraviolet rays from the Sun.

Starting in the 1990s, thanks to the world coming together to enact the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, we banned these substances - called chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs - from further use. Manufacturers stopped producing them, and we switched to using other, similar chemicals - called hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs - with the hopes that the depletion of the ozone layer would stop, and that it would eventually return to its former state.

The Antarctic ozone hole, on October 1, for selected years between 1979 and 2018. Credit: NASA GSVS

We have been hearing some encouraging news in recent years. NASA scientists, monitoring the Antarctic ozone hole, have shown that the hole has been getting smaller. It hasn't been a year-by-year reduction in the size, but the trend is clear. The banning of ozone-depleting chemicals is having a positive effect, and we are seeing real progress.

Now, a new UN report - Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion: 2018 - has gone a step further.

Based on the current rate of recovery, we can now expect to see significant improvement in the ozone layer, especially over the northern hemisphere, by the 2030. 

Also, the Antarctic ozone hole may be completely gone by the year 2060.

"It's really good news," Paul Newman, chief Earth scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and co-chair of this report, told the Associated Press. "If ozone-depleting substances had continued to increase, we would have seen huge effects. We stopped that."

The difference between the world we've produced by implementing the Montreal Protocol and the world we avoided is so marked that NASA produced a simulation to show us exactly what was expected, had we just ignored the warnings and continued on, business as usual.

Watch Below: The World We Avoided by Protecting the Ozone Layer

The work here isn't done, of course. The Montreal Protocol was a substantial first step, which has led us to this point.

More needs to be done before the problem is completely resolved. There are still reports of some CFC concentrations increasing in the atmosphere, so these must be tracked down and eliminated. Also, hydrofluorcarbons have turned out to be potent greenhouse gases. They are not as abundant in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, but they are making their contribution.

A new amendment to the Montreal Protocol, signed on October 15, 2018, will address the impact of hydrofluorcarbons, by having developed countries begin reducing their use in 2019.

"I don't think we can do a victory lap until 2060," Newman told the AP. "That will be for our grandchildren to do."

Did you know? The ozone in the stratospheric ozone layer and the ozone we hear about on smoggy days are the same gas, O3. Ground level ozone is considered 'bad', however, because it is at a level of the atmosphere where we can breathe it in. Ozone, no matter where we encounter it, absorbs harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun, but if breathed in, it acts as a lung irritant. This can impact people with asthma, heart disease, and lung disease, and can make even those with healthy lungs more susceptible to the effects of breathing in other pollutants, such as fine particulate matter.


Regardless of the fact that we still have 40-50 years yet before this problem is completely solved, the signing of the Montreal Protocol was a crucial first step in addressing a major global environmental problem.

The success of this action provides us with an excellent example of the good we can do when we come together to solve these big issues, and it comes at an important time - when we are currently attempting to avert another global disaster, by addressing the threat of climate change.

The changes required to curb the worse impacts of climate change are more formidable, to be sure, but the need is just as great. We are faced with dire consequences if we continue on, business as usual, with burning fossil fuels, just as bad as - if not worse than - what we would have seen if we had not addressed the problem of ozone depletion.

Years from now, do we want to be producing another The World We Avoided video, showing how much conditions with weather and climate have improved, compared to what could have been, had we not addressed climate change? Or would we prefer a wistful fantasy The World We Could Have Had video, to show us what might have been, if only we had acted sooner to avert disaster?

Sources: UN Environment | AP/PBS | NASA | US EPA


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