Rare record-sized ozone hole has appeared above the Arctic

8 Apr 2020

Image: © Biletskiy Evgeniy/Stock.adobe.com

A series of rare events over the Arctic have resulted in a record-sized ozone hole that won’t be around for long.

A “geophysical curiosity” has appeared over the Arctic, resulting in a record-sized ozone hole that could pose a risk to northern-hemisphere dwellers should its location radically shift. According to The Guardian, a team of researchers has tracked the hole over the last number of days.

The hole was created by unusually low atmospheric temperatures above the north pole, which created a stable polar vortex. With ozone-destroying chemicals such as chlorine and bromine left relatively stable in the atmosphere – brought on by human activities – the large hole formed.

“The hole is principally a geophysical curiosity,” said Vincent-Henri Peuch, director of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.

“We monitored unusual dynamic conditions, which drive the process of chemical depletion of ozone. [Those dynamics] allowed for lower temperatures and a more stable vortex than usual over the Arctic, which then triggered the formation of polar stratospheric clouds and the catalytic destruction of ozone.”

If the hole were to shift in location, it could pose an increased risk of sunburn to those living in Arctic regions such as Greenland. However, estimates suggest the hole will only be around for a couple of weeks.

An important reminder

The team stressed that it is still too early to tell whether the hole is directly related to the ongoing climate crisis. There have also been no signs that it is a direct result of the drastic cut in emissions seen in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Temperatures have begun increasing in the Arctic region, resulting in a slowing of the ozone’s depletion. This is because the polar air mixes with ozone-rich air from lower altitudes.

A more ever-present ozone hold can be found over Antarctica, which last year was at its smallest size in decades. However, similar to the current Arctic hole, this was described by researchers as “just a fluke of the weather”.

Last September and October, the southern polar vortex started to break down, resulting in atmospheric temperatures 16 degrees Celsius higher than average. As NASA reported at the time, winds dropped from a normal 259kph to about 180kph.

Speaking of the latest Arctic hole, Peuch said: “This is a reminder that one should not take the Montreal Protocol measures for granted, and that observations from the ground and from satellites are pivotal to avoid a situation where the chlorine and bromine levels in the stratosphere could increase again.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic