Antarctica’s ozone hole is smallest size in decades, no thanks to us

23 Oct 2019

Image: © harvepino/

NASA has shown that the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica is the smallest it has been in decades, but it has nothing to do with human efforts.

The ozone hole near the South Pole is at its smallest since it was discovered, but that is more due to freakish Antarctic weather than efforts to cut down on pollution, NASA has said. This autumn, the average hole in Earth’s protective ozone layer is 9.3m sq km, down from a peak of 26.7m sq km in 2006. This year’s hole is even smaller than the one first discovered in 1985.

“That’s really good news,” NASA scientist Paul Newman said. “That means more ozone over the hemisphere, less ultraviolet radiation at the surface.”

Earth’s ozone layer shields life on the surface from harmful solar radiation, but human-made chlorine compounds that can last in the air for 100 years eat away at the ozone, creating thinning and a gap over the southern hemisphere. The hole reaches its peak in September and October and disappears by late December until the next spring in the southern hemisphere.

Satellite map showing size of the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica.

The purple and blue colours show areas with the least amount of ozone, with yellow and red showing the most. Image: Goddard Space Flight Center/NASA via AP

‘Just a fluke’

The 1987 international Montreal Protocol — the only UN treaty ratified by every country on Earth — banned many of the chlorine compounds used in refrigerants and aerosols. The ban resulted in a slightly smaller ozone hole in recent years, but this year’s dramatic shrinking is not from those efforts, Newman said.

“It’s just a fluke of the weather,” said University of Colorado atmospheric scientist Brian Toon.

Chlorine in the air needs cold temperatures in the stratosphere and clouds to convert into a form of the chemical that eats ozone, Newman said. The clouds go away when it warms up.

But this September and October, the southern polar vortex — a swirl of cold high-speed winds around the pole — started to break down. At nearly 20km high in the atmosphere, temperatures were 16 degrees Celsius warmer than average. Winds dropped from a normal 259kph to about 108kph, NASA reported.

This is something that happens on occasion, occurring in 1988 and 2002, but not this extreme, Newman said.

— PA Media