hole in ozone layer over the tropics

Huge hole in the ozone layer discovered over the tropics

There’s a hole in the ozone layer in the tropics that we didn’t even know existed…and it’s big. Photo: Sean Oulashin/Unsplash

If you are of a certain age, you probably remember all that talk in the 1990s about the hole in the ozone layer. It was for a time the most pressing environmental problem in the world. Luckily we did something about it and things would have been much worse if we hadn’t. But researchers recently found another that they didn’t know existed.

This new (for us at least) hole was discovered over the tropical regions of the Earth. It remains open all year round. It somehow eluded researchers, who now think it’s likely been open since the 1980s.

An ozone hole is, quite simply, bad for us. The ozone layer protects us from ultraviolet radiation, too much of which is responsible for a whole host of problems such as skin cancer, cataracts, damage to plants, crops and animals, as well as reproductive problems in fish and phytoplankton.

When part of the ozone layer loses at least 25 percent more 03 (trioxygen) than the surrounding areas, we speak of a hole. The one that caused all the fuss in the 1990s was over Antarctica, and after a few decades of alarm bells, the world came together and decided to do something about it. After it was determined that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), used in aerosols and refrigeration equipment, were likely the cause of the problem, governments around the world signed the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which partially abolished the chemicals that thin the ozone layer. And it worked† Without those measures, today would be much worse.

But up there, not everything is perfect, as the new discovery shows. The tropical ozone hole was first reported in the journal AIP Progressand it is staggeringly large: seven times larger than the one above Antarctica once was.

“The tropics make up half the surface of the planet and are home to about half the world’s population,” said Qing-Bin Lu, a scientist at the University of Waterloo and author of the report. “The existence of the tropical ozone hole could be a major global concern.”

Not only is the tropical hole bigger than Antarctica, but it remains open all year round. Although the Antarctic species still exists, it has a seasonal cycle, thinning in September and October and thickening again during the year.

“Ozone layer depletion can lead to increased UV radiation at ground level, which can increase the risk of skin cancer and cataracts in humans, as well as weaken the human immune system, decrease agricultural productivity and negatively impact sensitive aquatic organisms and ecosystems.” “The current discovery requires further careful studies of ozone depletion, UV radiation change, increased cancer risks and other negative effects on health and ecosystems in the tropical regions.”

While only time will tell if the world can come back together to solve a problem we’ve created that affects all of us, the discovery of the tropical ozone hole comes at a time in human history that’s been a little too divisive. feels to see something as meaningful happening as the Montreal Protocol. But fingers crossed, right?

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