This year, the ozone hole over the South Pole is larger than Antarctica and is the biggest since 1979.
The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) and its scientists have been closely monitoring the development of this year’s ozone hole over the South Pole, which has now reached a greater extent than Antarctica.
After a fairly standard start, the 2021 ozone hole has grown considerably in the past two weeks and is now bigger than 75 % of ozone holes at this stage of the season since 1979.
As scientists report: “This year, the ozone hole developed as expected at the start of the season. It seems pretty similar to last year’s, which also wasn’t really exceptional until early September, but then turned into one of the largest and longest-lasting ozone holes in our data record later in the season.
“Now our forecasts show that this year´s hole has evolved into a rather larger than usual one. The vortex is quite stable and the stratospheric temperatures are even lower than last year, so it may continue to grow slightly over the next two or three weeks.”
Why is atmospheric ozone important?
Atmospheric ozone absorbs and protects us from ultraviolet light coming from the sun. Reduced ozone levels as a result of ozone depletion mean less protection from the sun’s rays and more exposure to UVB radiation at the Earth’s surface. Studies have shown that in the Antarctic, the amount of UVB measured at the surface can double during the annual ozone hole.
Effects on Human Health
Ozone layer depletion increases the amount of UVB that reaches the Earth’s surface. Laboratory and epidemiological studies demonstrate that UVB causes non-melanoma skin cancer and plays a major role in malignant melanoma development. In addition, UVB has been linked to the development of cataracts, a clouding of the eye’s lens.
Because all sunlight contains some UVB, even with normal stratospheric ozone levels, it is always important to protect your skin and eyes from the sun.
Effects on Plants
UVB radiation affects the physiological and developmental processes of plants. Despite mechanisms to reduce or repair these effects and an ability to adapt to increased levels of UVB, plant growth can be directly affected by UVB radiation.
Indirect changes caused by UVB (such as changes in plant form, how nutrients are distributed within the plant, timing of developmental phases and secondary metabolism) may be equally or sometimes more important than damaging effects of UVB. These changes can have important implications for plant competitive balance, herbivory, plant diseases, and biogeochemical cycles.
Effects on Marine Ecosystems
Phytoplankton form the foundation of aquatic food webs. Phytoplankton productivity is limited to the euphotic zone, the upper layer of the water column in which there is sufficient sunlight to support net productivity. Exposure to solar UVB radiation has been shown to affect both orientation and motility in phytoplankton, resulting in reduced survival rates for these organisms. Scientists have demonstrated a direct reduction in phytoplankton production due to ozone depletion-related increases in UVB.
UVB radiation has been found to cause damage to early developmental stages of fish, shrimp, crab, amphibians, and other marine animals. The most severe effects are decreased reproductive capacity and impaired larval development. Small increases in UVB exposure could result in population reductions for small marine organisms with implications for the whole marine food chain.
Effects on Biogeochemical Cycles
Increases in UVB radiation could affect terrestrial and aquatic biogeochemical cycles, thus altering both sources and sinks of greenhouse and chemically important trace gases (e.g., carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, carbonyl sulfide, ozone, and possibly other gases). These potential changes would contribute to biosphere-atmosphere feedbacks that mitigate or amplify the atmospheric concentrations of these gases.
Ozone depletion occurs yearly
Each year as the Southern Hemisphere approaches spring, artificial chemicals decompose ozone over Antarctica, making the ozone layer much thinner.
Last year’s ozone hole also began irrelevantly, but then it became one of the most lasting recorded in years.
As one of the world’s leading suppliers of ozone monitoring data, CAMS collects a lot of information on air quality, greenhouse gas and climate forcing a wide range of sensors, making this information available for users around the world through their Atmosphere Data Store.
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