New theory predicts the largest ozone hole over Antarctica will occur this month – cosmic rays at fault

From a University of Waterloo press release (h/t to commenter Rob)

NASA, 2004 click image for more

Source: NASA, 2004 click image for more

WATERLOO, Ont. (Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2008) — A University of Waterloo scientist says that cosmic rays are a key cause for expanding the hole in the ozone layer over the South Pole — and predicts the largest ozone hole will occur in one or two weeks.

Qing-Bin Lu, a professor of physics and astronomy who studies ozone depletion, said that it was generally accepted for more than two decades that the Earth’s ozone layer is depleted by chlorine atoms produced by sunlight-induced destruction of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the atmosphere. But more and more evidence now points to a new theory that the cosmic rays (energy particles that originate in space) play a major role.

The ozone layer is a layer in Earth’s atmosphere that contains high concentrations of ozone. It absorbs almost all of the sun’s high-frequency ultraviolet light, which is potentially damaging to life on Earth and causes diseases such as skin cancer and cataracts. The Antarctic ozone hole can be larger than the size of North America.

Lu said that data from several sources, including NASA satellites, show a strong correlation between cosmic ray intensity and ozone depletion. Lab measurements demonstrate a mechanism by which cosmic rays cause drastic reactions of ozone-depleting chlorine inside polar clouds.

Satellite data in the period of 1980-2007, covering two full 11-year solar cycles, demonstrate the significant correlation between cosmic rays and ozone depletion.

“This finding, combined with laboratory measurements, provides strong evidence of the role of cosmic-ray driven reactions in causing the ozone hole and resolves the mystery why a large discrepancy between the sunlight-related photochemical model and the observed ozone depletion exists,” Lu said.

For example, the most recent scientific assessments of ozone depletion by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme, which use photochemical models, predict ozone will increase by one to 2.5 per cent between 2000 and 2020 and Antarctic springtime ozone is projected to increase by five to 10 per cent between 2000 and 2020.

In sharp contrast, Lu said his study predicts the severest ozone loss — resulting in the largest ozone hole — will occur over the South Pole this month. The study also predicts another large hole will probably occur around 2019.


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M White

“the largest ozone hole ”
Is that the largest ozone hole ever recorded?


Regarding CFC’s, does anybody know if NASA or any other organization has ever measured the amount of CFC’s in the atmosphere by altitude? I’ve searched and searched for this information and have never found anything. This to me is odd because somebody must have measured CFC concentration by altitude at some point in the past and shown the data to governments to help get the CFC ban into place.

Pierre Gosselin

If true, then we could have a new barometer for predicting cloud cover, and thus global temperature variation.
By correlation do they mean ozone is directly proportional or inversely proportional to cosmic ray intensity?


This may be connected to an article published last year concerning the whole CFC “theory”, referenced here:


And was this prediction right?

Perry Debell

Bring back Halon 1301 fire extinguishers. The best all rounders there ever were.
Why? In practice, the operators of many Halon 1301 total flooding systems evacuated the space on impending agent discharge. In other words, just depart the scene, because the Halon 1301 would have the fire out in seconds.
No, you can’t have mine.


Nasa Ozone Hole data page:

Phillip Bratby

Hmmmm – Not another scientist disagreeing with the WMO and the UN. Whatever next. Will he be branded an anthropogenic ozone hole (AOH) sceptic (or denier).

Bob Moss

IPCC claims Ozone depletion causes global cooling:
“observed stratospheric O3 losses over the past two decades have caused a negative forcing of the surface-troposphere system”[42] of about −0.15 ± 0.10 watts per square meter (W/m²)”
I have also seen the ozone hole used as the explanation for lack of warming in the Antarctic.
From the article above it sounds like the current consensus is that ozone is expected to increase and the ozone hole diminish resulting in less negative forcing. I wonder how this has been modeled.


We can not heat our homes when it is cold because it will cause warming, we can not cool our homes when it is hot because it depletes the ozone layer and causes cooling, hmmmm. Our position at the top of the evolutionary ladder is being challenged because of our ability to adapt ourselves to our environment. I feel like watching “Planet of the Apes” again.

John M

Looks like from the page linked by kunhkat, Lu missed his prediction, but came close on area.
From the bar graphs shown on the NASA page referred to above, it looks like the southern Sept/Oct ozone hole leveled off in the early to mid 90s, and has stayed surprisingly stable since. Weren’t stratospheric CFC levels supposed to keep going up until about 2000 and then come down?
I’m not questioning the theory, just asking a question.

Retired Engineer

One major problem with CFC’s, at least in the Antarctic is how they get there. Most were produced in the north, the U.S., Europe, Japan. There is little mixing of NH and SH air, the jet streams keep them separate. So how did all those nasty CFC’s make it to the south pole and clobber the ozone? And why not an even bigger hole up north?
I recall an article in Science News many years back that a Dutch team had first noticed the ozone hole in the 1950’s (before we produced massive amounts of CFC’s) and that observations had tracked growth and shrinkage with the solar cycle. Lief may have to correct me on this, but I think GCR’s would also track the solar cycle.
Of course, all this was long before the politically correct Montreal Protocol which blamed everything on that nasty refrigerant and made everything more expensive and less efficient.

Does anyone have the reference to the original article reference. Lu originally published on oxone and cosmic rays in 2001 in Phys. Rev. Lett. 87, 078501 (2001) [4 pages]. However I can find no reference to his 2008 article. Presumably there is a graph which would be interesting to see!!

Chris H

There are skeptics who do not believe that CFCs are the cause of the Ozone hole (and their arguments are interesting).


The debate over CFC’s is over folks! The Montreal Protocol has solved the problem.
Move along – nothing to see here.

Bill Illis

Greenhouse gas trends including the two most important CFCs here.
According to the NASA Ozonehole watch timeline linked above, it appears there is more correlation to CFCs than to the solar cycle.

Patrick Henry

As Antarctica warms up due to global warming, the penguins will need more refrigerators. The vicious cycle continues. Temperatures have already reached a blistering -56F this spring at Vostok.

John M

Bill Illis (10:21:44)
Thanks. I’ve seen those, but I’m pretty sure those are tropospheric levels.
I seem to recall stratospheric levels were supposed to peak later.


John M (10:54:14) :
Bill Illis (10:21:44)
Thanks. I’ve seen those, but I’m pretty sure those are tropospheric levels.
I seem to recall stratospheric levels were supposed to peak later.

Try here, Figs 8 & 9

The WMO/UNEP report “Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion: 2006” by the Scientific Assessment Panel of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer [] states: “Model simulations suggest that changes in climate, specifically the cooling of the stratosphere associated with increases in the abundance of carbon dioxide, may hasten the return of global [(60°S-60°N)] column ozone to pre-1980 values by up to 15 years”. Apparently CO2 has positive effects.

Is this not more a question of a less active sun in general, where the cosmic rays are inversely coupled to?
If the sun is very active, more ozone is formed near the equator and the temperature gradient of the stratosphere between the equator and the poles is increased. This shifts the jet stream position towards the poles too, including rain patterns in the troposphere. This may influence the Antarctic vortex in winter (here I am speculating) and hence the strength of the ozone hole in spring.
Thus while solar activity is the origin in all cases, it doesn’t necessary include that cosmic rays are the real trigger of the reactions.

John M

I guess I can google too (time I got off my lazy duff).
Looks like the peak is a little after 1995.
Guess that’s close enough.


Is this caused by the shrinking heliosphere?
Sun’s protective ‘bubble’ is shrinking


Retired engineer- you forgot one space shuttle. The fuel tank spray-on insulating foam chemistry was switched to reduce CFC emissions associated with the spray process (perhaps a few parts per quintillion of total US CFC emissions, but that’s just a detail…). There were clearly some adhesion problems with the new formulation that eventually led to the loss of a shuttle.
There are some big problems with the CFC-ozone causal link claimed by promoters of the Montreal protocol. There was a paper in Nature last year from NASA JPL that reported measured reaction rates for one particular chemical pathway to be much too slow compared with the assumed reaction rate that led to the predictions of ozone destruction rates from A-CFC’s.
Some of the quotes from the authors and other atmospheric chemistry/ozone experts are very enlightening. For example,
“This must have far-reaching consequences,” Rex says. “If the measurements are correct we can basically no longer say we understand how ozone holes come into being.” What effect the results have on projections of the speed or extent of ozone depletion remains unclear.”
“The rapid photolysis of Cl2O2 is a key reaction in the chemical model of ozone destruction developed 20 years ago2 (see graphic). If the rate is substantially lower than previously thought, then it would not be possible to create enough aggressive chlorine radicals to explain the observed ozone losses at high latitudes, says Rex. The extent of the discrepancy became apparent only when he incorporated the new photolysis rate into a chemical model of ozone depletion. The result was a shock: at least 60% of ozone destruction at the poles seems to be due to an unknown mechanism, Rex told a meeting of stratosphere researchers in Bremen, Germany, last week.”
“Other groups have yet to confirm the new photolysis rate, but the conundrum is already causing much debate and uncertainty in the ozone research community. “Our understanding of chloride chemistry has really been blown apart,” says John Crowley, an ozone researcher at the Max Planck Institute of Chemistry in Mainz, Germany.”
“Until recently everything looked like it fitted nicely,” agrees Neil Harris, an atmosphere scientist who heads the European Ozone Research Coordinating Unit at the University of Cambridge, UK. “Now suddenly it’s like a plank has been pulled out of a bridge.”
But Montreal Protocolists continue to point to the ‘success’ of the CFC-banning protocol as a blueprint for carbon dioxide controlling protocols. I guess it depends on your measure and definition of ‘success’.

Jeff Norman

re: deadwood (10:17:10) :
“The debate over CFC’s is over folks! The Montreal Protocol has solved the problem.”
And the Montreal Protocol is a fine model of how the nations of the world can work together to resolve a global “problem”. Right.

Jørgen F.

Retired Engineer,
I remember my high school chemistry teacher in the mid 80s having the same problem. He could not understand how the CFC’s got up there either.
“They must be clever than me” – he said ….But no, they where not….
He had a great reputation. He could distil denatured alcohol – “They” don’t come clever than that…..

Jim B

I have a lot of bets from 1988-1995 finally coming due. 🙂
CFC’s my hairy …..


Are comic rays the missing piece of the ozone climate puzzle? Do we have enough data over a long enough period of time to really know. And isn’t that the real problem most of our climate theories suffer.
The sun creates ozone, the sun destroys ozone. Ah the good old days of innocence. The ozone hole seems to do whatever it wants regardless what man does with CFCs. That’s odd. Now we find the sun allowing an increase in comic rays, and that is affecting the ozone hole.
I wonder, has anyone tried correlating the balance of the sun’s shortwave and longwave UV to the ozone hole? Wouldn’t that be something relatively easy to do? Might that produce some answers that may be additive to the cosmic ray theory of ozone creation/destruction? I would think the two would be similar processes, with additive results.
All this ozone stuff, it’s sort of like global warming not obeying Al Gore. Next people will be saying the whole DDT scare was a hoax — Bring back DDT.
Maybe if we spent more time on real science, than trying to disprove the latest concocted liberal taxing theory … The Internet is a vast resource, it’s past time we put it to good use “the wisdom of the crowd”.


The NASA Ozone hole website references 1979 as a benchmark year. It seems that just like with the climate change/AGW scientific analysis, whatever might have happened before 1979 isn’t important.
Also note that the “Hole”, is not the complete absence of Ozone, it’s a region that has about 2/3rds (or less) of the typical 300 DU concentration.

Leon Brozyna

So, there are now two theories about ozone depletion and the Antarctic ozone hole. Should Dr. Lu’s bear up to the test of time, I expect that the UN still will never abandon their cherished CFC theory. It’s a pity we don’t have solid data {not proxies} about the condition of the ozone hole before the introduction of CFC’s. Should Dr. Lu’s prediction for the ozone hole bear up this month, I can see the UN/WMO twisting themselves into pretzels in trying to account for what, in their view, would be an anomaly. And a century from now, when the ozone hole is still there as big and strong as ever, everyone will have forgotten about the pseudo-science that resulted in the banning of CFC’s. This whole episode seems like a dry run that was used in working up to CO2 and AGW.


Bill Illis, thanks for graphs.
“producing ethanol from corn grain can release large amounts of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, into the environment”
Al Gore – Increasing greenhouse gasses through stupidity!


Another lost theory, from 1998:
“One of the reasons for the warmer Arctic is that large-scale planetary atmospheric waves, similar to solitons in the oceans, deposit heat energy in the North, breaking up an atmospheric vortex of cold air that sits over the Arctic. In the simulations performed by the NASA-Columbia team, temperature and wind changes induced by greenhouse gases alter the propagation of planetary waves, which no longer disturb the Arctic vortex as often. The combination of greenhouse-induced stratospheric cooling and the increased stability of the Arctic polar vortex dramatically increase ozone depletion.
Because of international controls on the emission of ozone-depleting halogens, those gases are expected to peak about the year 2000. In the Columbia-NASA model, Arctic ozone depletion will be worst in the decade 2010 to 2019, with two-thirds of atmospheric ozone lost in the most severely affected areas.”

Ferdinand Engelbeen (11:24:06) :
Is this not more a question of a less active sun in general, where the cosmic rays are inversely coupled to?
Seems likely to me, but I need to see the original article. I have great ‘admiration’ for NASA’s ability to blow something out of proportion and label it as “New”, “breakthrough”, “important”, etc.
dmdoug (11:37:22) :
Is this caused by the shrinking heliosphere?

No, the cosmic ray intensity now is not any larger than it usually is a every solar minimum. On look for Neutron Monitor % of background, Oct 24 100.0 %
The ‘background’ is the normal long-term intensity when there is no solar modulation.
Cosmic rays have always been around. So the ozone hole during the Maunder and Dalton minima [where many people (including the Heartland Institute representatives) claim less solar activity -> more cosmic rays -> LIA] should have been larger than now if the primary driver of Ozone hole size was cosmic rays. So, next month’s hole would not be the largest, unless, of course, helped along by CFCs.
My daughter-in-law [Signe] had a review article in Nature a couple years back. They concluded:
“Nature 441, 39-45 (4 May 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04746
The search for signs of recovery of the ozone layer
Elizabeth C. Weatherhead & Signe Bech Andersen
Evidence of mid-latitude ozone depletion and proof that the Antarctic ozone hole was caused by humans spurred policy makers from the late 1980s onwards to ratify the Montreal Protocol and subsequent treaties, legislating for reduced production of ozone-depleting substances. The case of anthropogenic ozone loss has often been cited since as a success story of international agreements in the regulation of environmental pollution. Although recent data suggest that total column ozone abundances have at least not decreased over the past eight years for most of the world, it is still uncertain whether this improvement is actually attributable to the observed decline in the amount of ozone-depleting substances in the Earth’s atmosphere. The high natural variability in ozone abundances, due in part to the solar cycle as well as changes in transport and temperature, could override the relatively small changes expected from the recent decrease in ozone-depleting substances. Whatever the benefits of the Montreal agreement, recovery of ozone is likely to occur in a different atmospheric environment, with changes expected in atmospheric transport, temperature and important trace gases. It is therefore unlikely that ozone will stabilize at levels observed before 1980, when a decline in ozone concentrations was first observed.

Robert in Calgary

I thought the “consensus” had decided cosmic rays weren’t allowed to do anything important.

Jørgen F. (11:55:35) :
He could not understand how the CFC’s got up there either.
The Brewer-Dobson circulation is a plausible mechanism:
There is also a lot of other good stuff at that link.

Pamela Gray

We have our own little area right where we live. The thinning ozone over the NW area of the US is really progressing compared to when I first brought this to your attention. Not so little anymore.


To be fair, the question Qing-Bin Lu raised is not about whether CFCs are ‘responsible’ but whether cosmic rays have any more effect than previously thought. As I understand it, they’re saying that cosmic rays interact with CFCs to reduce ozone, whereas previously it was thought only sunlight did:

james griffin

What I am waiting for is the spin the media put on this…someone might even mention that cosmic rays imcrease cloud cover and this leads to cooling and increased precipitation.
Whoever raises this subject probably wont have the surname Gore!


Dr. Linwood Callis of NASA led an agency investigation of the causes of ozone fluctuations during the 1980s. As he told me: “The overwhelming portion of the ozone depletion in the 1980s was due to natural causes,” and the effect of CFCs “was really quite small — less than one-half of one percent.” (His paper “Ozone Depletion in the High Latitude Lower Stratosphere: 1979-1990″ appeared in the Journal of Geophysical Research, Vol. 96, No. D2, Feb. 20, 1991, pp. 2921-2937.) Callis went on to say that he thought that scientists blaming CFCs for ozone depletion were being “less than honest.”
Another one bites the dust.

Ed Scott

tarpon (12:21:26)
“Maybe if we spent more time on real science, than trying to disprove the latest concocted liberal taxing theory…”
The concentration on this forum has been real science by those who are qualified as scientists. Real science is the way to disprove AGW.
A major problem is the difficulty in reversing the Pavlovian response to X happens, X is considered to be bad, X is caused by global warming; or Y is man-made, Y is a GHG, Y causes global warming; or, as Dr. Pachauri postulates, B is a bovine emission, B is a GHG, B causes global warming. Eat more vegetables.

[…] New theory predicts the largest ozone hole over Antarctica will occur this month – cosmic rays at f… From a University of Waterloo press release (h/t to commenter Rob) WATERLOO, Ont. (Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2008) — A […] […]


I seem to recall that the sulfur from major volcanic eruptions somehow reacted with ozone, depleting it. Anyone care to comment on this?

Absolutely amazing. Science by correlation fails again. I’m not being sarcastic, if the ozone hole expands dramatically again we have to do a good job of quantifying and publicizing the massive efforts to stop it and the end result.

Anyway, remember how just a few days ago Grant Tamino was bashing this top web site as garbage and my post as junk. It turns out that Tamino Foster has spent his time over the last few days subtracting instrument data and looking closely at the difference — how’d he think of that one.
He found something interesting or we would never have known his true feelings. A one year heating and cooling in the difference signal by SUBTRACTION of the RSS and UAH data.
From that post I did some math an found out that when the earth is closest to the sun we get hotter. — Sounds like a kindergarten class but there is a small possibility from my less experienced perspective that this effect has never been quantified. Tamino Foster makes it sound like it’s a revelation.


Hmm. Even if it was found that CFC’s had nothing to do with it, it would never be rescinded as the cause of the Ozone depletion, to much money has changed hands over it, and thousands of people and corporations could sue governments , scientists, and the UN I suspect, for repairs and replacements of refrigeration equipment that was using cfc’s.. I think of all the machines I personally converted to 134a or replaced with r-134a, r-404a variants, and the dollar number is huge. It also pains me to think that the hauling of all that recovery equipment up ladders to roofs was all for nothing but a sore back. Before the ozone scare , we just let ‘er rip, refrigerant was cheaper than labour.
The CFC skeptics had eluded to the expiration of Duponts patent on R-12 and 11, being very conveniently around the time it was found that CFC’s killed ozone. Clinton and Gore then fired a Nasa scientist who said it was bunk, his name escapes me, Gore has no right to talk about muzzling scientists..


Martin is correct. This article does not refute that CFC’s breakdown the ozone layer, just that they do so at a greater rate with cosmic rays than sunlight, and an increase in cosmic rays due to the reduction of solar wind accelerates the reaction, and so the ozone hole increases.

Jeff Id (17:50:08) :
From that post I did some math and found out that when the earth is closest to the sun we get hotter. — Sounds like a kindergarten class but there is a small possibility from my less experienced perspective that this effect has never been quantified.
In January we receive 90 W/m2 more TSI than in July, or 7%. That should translate into a 7%/4 = 1.7% of 300K = 5K temperature difference. Because of the uneven land/sea distribution the effect is a bit smaller, but easily discernible. However, when you deal with temperature anomalies, this seasonal variation should disappear, if you do it correctly, i.e. deal with the two hemispheres separately [computing and subtracting the mean for each month [or day, whatever they use]]. If that is not done, or if the coverage is not the same in both hemispheres, or if there are any other little asymmetries, then you very easily get this kind of annual wave. For instance, the geomagnetic Dst-index [that measures the strength of magnetic storms] suffers from being based on 3 Northern and only 1 Southern station. This introduces an artificial annual cycle, see e.g. page 8 of
I don’t think [don’t know – more precisely] your effect has been noticed before. Good work.

Jeff Id (17:50:08) :
Tamino Foster makes it sound like it’s a revelation.
He may be on to something, for once. I took a look at his posting:
“The RSS data show about what we’d expect, given the red-noise character of the data. The UAH data show the same, plus a strong response at a period of 1 year”, so the effect depends on the series [a good sign that it is artificial]. There is also the step in 1992. This is, indeed, interesting. Now, it is too early in the game to jump to conclusions [Tamino even had a ‘brain fart’ – his words…].

Jeff Id (17:50:08) :
From that post I did some math and found out that when the earth is closest to the sun we get hotter.
1-One big question in climatology is the response of the planet to changes in solar output.
2-We seem to have a signal created by our distance from the sun
3-We should be able to calculate the (short term) response of the climate system to net solar input. This would include solar particle as well as other forms of energy.

Unfortunately it won’t work with the data you have. The ‘signal’ is an artifact because of incomplete compensation for the seasons and the orbit. To investigate the real ‘signal’ you have to work with actual temperatures [and not subtract the average to get the anomaly]. You see, it’s the average that is not determined ‘correctly’ and that bleeds through to the anomalies.
But, the principle is sound. I have often asked the modelers [e.g. Gavin Schmidt] to see if their model could handle the 90 W/m2 and what would be computed differently if you changed the 90 to 0 or to 180, but he never seems to be interested enough to do something about it [too busy?!].


The CFC distribution in the atmosphere was never measured. It was the result of computer modeling.
The impact of CFC’s on ozone was never measured. Once again, all of the scary results came from computer models only.
As to the ozone hole getting bigger. Well the sun is in a minima right now, which means that it’s production of UV is down. Based on previous minima, it might be down by as much as 10%.
Less UV means less ozone.

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