Monday, October 10, 2011

'Unprecedented' Ozone Hole Over Arctic

You’ve heard about holes in our ozone layer for decades now, with reports that ozone-eating chemicals have been collecting together and doing their damage above the Antarctic region, sparing Earth’s populated areas from raised UV exposure. Based on warnings that things could get worse, many of us have cut back on ozone depleting chemicals.

 Many of our air conditioners now use gases that are considered “friendlier” for the environment since these holes were found. So things are getting better way up there, right? Maybe not. For the very first time, a sizable hole has been discovered hanging out over the Arctic. According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, our northernmost region’s upper atmosphere has lost ozone like never before during last winter. 

The Arctic is typically warmer than its icy southern cousin Antartica, whose temperatures stay much longer in the destructive “sweet spot” needed to enhance ozone depletion. In a report for the science journal Nature, co-author Gloria Manney said the 2010-2011 northern winter was cold enough, for long enough, for the Arctic region to lose 80% of its ozone layer, as measured 18-20 km above the Earth’s surface. This is similar to the loss typically seen in Antarctica, and according to Manney spells bad news for those living in northern lands.

 Unlike with the ozone layer down south, the conditions causing the northern loss don’t tend to stay put, and “often shifts to lower latitudes, sometimes over densely populated regions.” If you are reading this in Alaska, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland or northern Russia, you might want to stop by your local grocer and stock up on the sunblock this winter.