From the “Montreal Protocol success is not weather, unless it is” department and NASA Goddard:
Using measurements from NASA’s Aura satellite, scientists studied chlorine within the Antarctic ozone hole over the last several years, watching as the amount slowly decreased. This is the first definitive evidence of the success of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, which was ratified in 1987.
The international treaty banned the use of chlorofluorocarbons and related compounds, which break down in the stratosphere and release chlorine molecules. This chlorine depletes the ozone layer and is responsible for creating the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica. The ozone hole fluctuates each year, reaching an annual maximum at the end of southern winter, usually in September. The hole has been trending smaller for the last few years, but as temperature has an effect on ozone-depletion, this was not definitive evidence of the Montreal Protocol’s efficacy.
Although scientists have been measuring levels of chlorine near the ground for decades, this study is the first time anyone accurately measured chlorine levels inside the ozone hole, confirming that the Montreal Protocol is doing its job.
Here is the Press release from January 4th, 2018:
Measurements show that the decline in chlorine, resulting from an international ban on chlorine-containing manmade chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), has resulted in about 20 percent less ozone depletion during the Antarctic winter than there was in 2005 — the first year that measurements of chlorine and ozone during the Antarctic winter were made by NASA’s Aura satellite.
“We see very clearly that chlorine from CFCs is going down in the ozone hole, and that less ozone depletion is occurring because of it,” said lead author Susan Strahan, an atmospheric scientist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
CFCs are long-lived chemical compounds that eventually rise into the stratosphere, where they are broken apart by the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation, releasing chlorine atoms that go on to destroy ozone molecules. Stratospheric ozone protects life on the planet by absorbing potentially harmful ultraviolet radiation that can cause skin cancer and cataracts, suppress immune systems and damage plant life.
Two years after the discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole in 1985, nations of the world signed the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, which regulated ozone-depleting compounds. Later amendments to the Montreal Protocol completely phased out production of CFCs.
Past studies have used statistical analyses of changes in the ozone hole’s size to argue that ozone depletion is decreasing. This study is the first to use measurements of the chemical composition inside the ozone hole to confirm that not only is ozone depletion decreasing, but that the decrease is caused by the decline in CFCs.
The study was published Jan. 4 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
The Antarctic ozone hole forms during September in the Southern Hemisphere’s winter as the returning sun’s rays catalyze ozone destruction cycles involving chlorine and bromine that come primarily from CFCs. To determine how ozone and other chemicals have changed year to year, scientists used data from the Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS) aboard the Aura satellite, which has been making measurements continuously around the globe since mid-2004. While many satellite instruments require sunlight to measure atmospheric trace gases, MLS measures microwave emissions and, as a result, can measure trace gases over Antarctica during the key time of year: the dark southern winter, when the stratospheric weather is quiet and temperatures are low and stable.
The change in ozone levels above Antarctica from the beginning to the end of southern winter — early July to mid-September — was computed daily from MLS measurements every year from 2005 to 2016. “During this period, Antarctic temperatures are always very low, so the rate of ozone destruction depends mostly on how much chlorine there is,” Strahan said. “This is when we want to measure ozone loss.”
They found that ozone loss is decreasing, but they needed to know whether a decrease in CFCs was responsible. When ozone destruction is ongoing, chlorine is found in many molecular forms, most of which are not measured. But after chlorine has destroyed nearly all the available ozone, it reacts instead with methane to form hydrochloric acid, a gas measured by MLS. “By around mid-October, all the chlorine compounds are conveniently converted into one gas, so by measuring hydrochloric acid we have a good measurement of the total chlorine,” Strahan said.
Nitrous oxide is a long-lived gas that behaves just like CFCs in much of the stratosphere. The CFCs are declining at the surface but nitrous oxide is not. If CFCs in the stratosphere are decreasing, then over time, less chlorine should be measured for a given value of nitrous oxide. By comparing MLS measurements of hydrochloric acid and nitrous oxide each year, they determined that the total chlorine levels were declining on average by about 0.8 percent annually.
The 20 percent decrease in ozone depletion during the winter months from 2005 to 2016 as determined from MLS ozone measurements was expected. “This is very close to what our model predicts we should see for this amount of chlorine decline,” Strahan said. “This gives us confidence that the decrease in ozone depletion through mid-September shown by MLS data is due to declining levels of chlorine coming from CFCs. But we’re not yet seeing a clear decrease in the size of the ozone hole because that’s controlled mainly by temperature after mid-September, which varies a lot from year to year.”
Looking forward, the Antarctic ozone hole should continue to recover gradually as CFCs leave the atmosphere, but complete recovery will take decades. “CFCs have lifetimes from 50 to 100 years, so they linger in the atmosphere for a very long time,” said Anne Douglass, a fellow atmospheric scientist at Goddard and the study’s co-author. “As far as the ozone hole being gone, we’re looking at 2060 or 2080. And even then there might still be a small hole.”
To read the study, visit: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2017GL074830/abstract
However, just a couple of months ago, NASA claimed the most recent shrinkage of the Antarctic Ozone Hole was due to a warm winter, not the Montreal protocol. Next year, I wonder what they’ll say if the hole is bigger than 2017. They wrote then:
NASA and NOAA scientists work together to study the ozone layer, monitoring the hole over Antarctica as it fluctuates with the seasons.
This year, the ozone hole’s annual maximum set a record — the smallest it’s been since 1988.
The hole in the ozone layer is caused each year as ozone molecules react with chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the atmosphere. The reactions occur at cold temperatures, so the hole reaches a maximum size each year at the end of southern winter, and then heals during the warmer summer months.
Although CFCs have been banned since 1987 under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, the compounds decay very slowly, and still remain in the atmosphere. This year, the small ozone hole was mostly caused by warmer temperatures, which slowed down the reactions between ozone and CFCs.
NASA also claims the ozone hole will be gone by 2040, we’ll see then if this was just a natural feature all along, or if CFC reduction really did have an impact:
Big Ozone Holes Headed For Extinction By 2040
The next three decades will see an end of the era of big ozone holes. In a new study, scientists from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center say that the ozone hole will be consistently smaller than 8 million square miles by the year 2040.
Ozone-depleting chemicals in the atmosphere cause an ozone hole to form over Antarctica during the winter months in the Southern Hemisphere. Since the Montreal Protocol agreement in 1987, emissions have been regulated and chemical levels have been declining. However, the ozone hole has still remained bigger than 8 million square miles since the early 1990s, with exact sizes varying from year to year.
The size of the ozone hole varies due to both temperature and levels of ozone-depleting chemicals in the atmosphere. In order to get a more accurate picture of the future size of the ozone hole, scientists used NASA’s AURA satellite to determine how much the levels of these chemicals in the atmosphere varied each year. With this new knowledge, scientists can confidently say that the ozone hole will be consistently smaller than 8 million square miles by the year 2040. Scientists will continue to use satellites to monitor the recovery of the ozone hole and they hope to see its full recovery before the end of the century.
Research: Inorganic chlorine variability in the Antarctic vortex and implications for ozone recovery.
Journal: Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, December 18, 2014.