Since it’s discovery in 1985, the hole in the ozone layer above the Antarctic has been a testament to humankind’s detrimental effects on the environment. Now however, there is cause to be hopeful. Atmospheric chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Susan Solomon is surprised to report the gap is shrinking, “I didn’t think it would be this early.”
The study led by Solomon was published online by Science, it explains the deterioration of the ozone is original due to the production of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs): chlorine contacting chemicals that built up in the atmosphere through aerosol cans and various other human made products. Scientists identifying the problem lobbied for the Montreal Protocol of 1987, an international agreement to phase out the use of the harmful chemicals.
With the combined use of satellite measurements, ground based instruments and weather balloons Solomon and her team determined that since 2000 the hole has shrunk by 4 million square kilometres.
Paul Newman, who runs NASA’s Arctic Ozone Watch website is sceptical of Solomon’s findings. Attributing the reduction of chlorine and bromine as the only factor in the ozone layer mending does not seem plausible to him. Instead citing the shifting climate as a major factor contributing to at least 50% of why the hole is shrinking.
Solomon has some vested interest in the studies outcome as she led the initial study in 1986 that identified the stratospheric clouds as chlorine reaction sites and the status reports following the Montreal Protocol. She remains optimistic, “The fact that we’ve made a global choice to do something different and the planet has responded to out choice can’t help but be uplifting,” she says.
According to Solomon’s predictions the hole in the ozone will not close completely until 2050 at the earliest.