This year’s ozone hole is larger than the whole of Antarctica

17 Sep 2021

A map centred on the Antarctic region. Areas coloured yellow, orange and red depict high ozone values, whereas green and blue areas show low values. Image: Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service/ECMWF

Scientists said this year’s ozone hole above the southern hemisphere is larger than 75pc of previous years’ holes at this stage in the season since 1979.

Yesterday (16 September) was the International Day for the Protection of the Ozone Layer. But, unfortunately, it came with bad news.

Scientists at the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) said they have found that the ozone hole above the southern hemisphere is unusually large this year. Large enough to fit the whole continent of Antarctica in it.

While there is a depletion in the ozone layer above the southern hemisphere each year during its spring months of August to October, this year’s depletion was found to be larger than 75pc of ozone holes at this stage in the season since 1979.

“This year, the ozone hole developed as expected at the start of the season,” said CAMS director Vincent-Henri Peuch. “It seems pretty similar to last year’s, which also wasn’t really exceptional until early September, but then turned into one of the largest and longest-lasting ozone holes in our data record later in the season.”

Peuch added that this year’s hole has evolved into a “rather larger than usual one”. The vortex is quite stable and the stratospheric temperatures are even lower than last year, he said, so it may continue to grow slightly over the next two or three weeks. “We are looking at a quite big and potentially also deep ozone hole.”

‘Europe’s eyes on earth’

CAMS is part Copernicus, the EU’s Earth observation programme described as “Europe’s eyes on Earth”. It was launched in 2014 to provide continuous data and information on atmospheric composition.

Peuch said that the technology used for the CAMS modelling, operated by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, is unique because it builds on the strengths of different types of satellite observations and combines them into one single product.

“By combining data from several different sources, we are able to continually collect data and provide a high-quality uninterrupted service.”


The ozone layer protects the Earth from the sun’s harmful UV rays, but some compounds such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) reach the stratosphere and break the layer down, creating ‘holes’ through which the UV rays can enter. CFCs have been phased out since the Montreal Protocol in 1987 because of their harmful effects.

CAMS said that the ozone layer has since shown signs of recovery, but it will take up to 2070 before ozone-depleting substances are completely phased out.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic