The Antarctic ozone hole has stabilized but has not begun to recover, twenty years after Montreal Protocol limited emissions of ozone-destroying chemicals.
The area of the ozone hole, such as in October 2013 (above), is one way to view the ozone hole from year to year. However, the classic metrics have limitations. Image © NASA/Ozone Hole Watch
NASA scientists have revealed the inner workings of the ozone hole that forms annually over Antarctica and found that declining chlorine in the stratosphere has not yet caused a recovery of the ozone hole.
More than 20 years after the Montreal Protocol agreement limited human emissions of ozone-depleting substances, satellites have monitored the area of the annual ozone hole and watched it essentially stabilize, ceasing to grow substantially larger. However, two new studies show that signs of recovery are not yet present, and that temperature and winds are still driving any annual changes in ozone hole size.
“Ozone holes with smaller areas and a larger total amount of ozone are not necessarily evidence of recovery attributable to the expected chlorine decline,” said Susan Strahan of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “That assumption is like trying to understand what’s wrong with your car’s engine without lifting the hood.”
To find out what’s been happening under the ozone hole’s hood, Strahan and Natalya Kramarova, also of NASA Goddard, used satellite data to peer inside the hole. The research was presented Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.
Kramarova tackled the 2012 ozone hole, the second-smallest hole since the mid 1980s. To find out what caused the hole’s diminutive area, she turned to data from the NASA-NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite, and gained the first look inside the hole with the satellite’s Ozone Mapper and Profiler Suite’s Limb Profiler. Next, data were converted into a map that shows how the amount of ozone differed with altitude throughout the stratosphere in the center of the hole during the 2012 season, from September through November.
A look inside the 2012 ozone hole with the Ozone Mapper and Profiler Suite shows how the build-up of ozone (parts per million by volume) in the middle stratosphere masks the ozone loss in the lower stratosphere. Image © NASA
The map revealed that the 2012 ozone hole was more complex than previously thought. Increases of ozone at upper altitudes in early October, carried there by winds, occurred above the ozone destruction in the lower stratosphere.
“Our work shows that the classic metrics based on the total ozone values have limitations – they don’t tell us the whole story,” Kramarova said.