Ozone layer still depleting, contrary to popular belief

Ozone layer still depleting, contrary to popular belief

However, a team led by researchers from ETH Zurich and the Physikalisch- Meteorologisches Observatorium Davos in Switzerland have found that despite the ban on CFCs, the concentration of ozone in the lower part of the stratosphere has continued to decline at latitudes between 60 degree South and 60 degree North. William Ball, an atmospheric researcher at ETH Zurich and the first author of the study, explains: "Thanks to the Montreal Protocol, ozone in the upper stratosphere - i.e. above 30 km - has increased significantly since 1998, and the stratosphere is also recovering above the polar regions".

This comes as a bit of a blow following the good news a year ago that the hole in the ozone above Antarctica appears to be healing thanks to a ban on chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). It is a matter of worry as the Montreal protocol no doubt has helped to reduce damage level at the poles but there are other things going on.

Global ozone has been declining since the 1970s owing to certain man-made chemicals.

The ozone layer that protects people from the sun's ultraviolet radiation is not recovering over most highly populated regions, scientists warned on Tuesday.

During the study, the researcher's team detected that Ozone layer in the stratosphere is not recovering as expected, between 60 N and 60 S.

"The study is in lower to mid latitudes, where the sunshine is more intense, so that is not a good signal for skin cancer", said Prof Joanna Haigh at Imperial College London, a member of the worldwide research team. Overall, the effects balance out but this means the ozone layer over the area studied is remaining in its depleted state.

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Study co-author Professor Joanna Haigh, Co-Director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London, said: "Ozone has been seriously declining globally since the 1980s, but while the banning of CFCs is leading to a recovery at the poles, the same does not appear to be true for the lower latitudes". He suspects that very short-lived substances might have managed to reach the stratosphere and have resulted in the depletion of ozone layer.

Scientists are not yet sure what accounts for this continuing decline but one explanation could be that climate change modifies the pattern of atmospheric circulation. The latter includes chemicals used in solvents, degreasing agents, and paint strippers. The scientists were somewhat surprised that the ozone is thinning out in the lower stratosphere because their models do not show this trend and CFCs continue to decline. One of such chemicals is actually used to create a CFC replacement. "Very short-lived substances could be the missing factor in these models".

Today's publication combines the datasets of multiple worldwide teams, connecting information from various satellite missions since 1985.

Although individual datasets had previously hinted at a decline, the application of advanced merging techniques and time series analysis has revealed a longer term trend of ozone decrease in the stratosphere at lower altitudes and latitudes.

Dr Justin Alsing from the Flatiron Institute in NY, who took on a major role in developing and implementing the statistical technique used to combine the data, said: "This research was only possible because of a great deal of cross-disciplinary collaboration". The study was conducted by 22 scientists at research centres in the USA and Europe.

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