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Arctic stratospheric ozone levels hit record low in March

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Ozone ranges above the Arctic reached a document low for March, NASA researchers report. An evaluation of satellite tv for pc observations present that ozone ranges reached their lowest level on March 12 at 205 Dobson items.

Whereas such low ranges are uncommon, they aren’t unprecedented. Related low ozone ranges occurred within the higher ambiance, or stratosphere, in 1997 and 2011. Compared, the bottom March ozone worth noticed within the Arctic is often round 240 Dobson items.

“This yr’s low Arctic ozone occurs about as soon as per decade,” mentioned Paul Newman, chief scientist for Earth Sciences at NASA’s Goddard House Flight Middle in Greenbelt, Maryland. “For the general well being of the ozone layer, that is regarding since Arctic ozone ranges are usually excessive throughout March and April.”

Ozone is a extremely reactive molecule comprised of three oxygen atoms that happens naturally in small quantities. The stratospheric ozone layer, roughly 7 to 25 miles above Earth’s floor, is a sunscreen, absorbing dangerous ultraviolet radiation that may injury vegetation and animals and affecting folks by inflicting cataracts, pores and skin most cancers and suppressed immune methods.

The March Arctic ozone depletion was brought on by a mixture of things that arose as a consequence of unusually weak higher atmospheric “wave” occasions from December by means of March. These waves drive actions of air by means of the higher ambiance akin to climate methods that we expertise within the decrease ambiance, however a lot larger in scale.

In a typical yr, these waves journey upward from the mid-latitude decrease ambiance to disrupt the circumpolar winds that swirl across the Arctic. After they disrupt the polar winds, they do two issues. First, they convey with them ozone from different elements of the stratosphere, replenishing the reservoir over the Arctic.

“Consider it like having a red-paint dollop, low ozone over the North Pole, in a white bucket of paint,” Newman mentioned. “The waves stir the white paint, increased quantities of ozone within the mid-latitudes, with the crimson paint or low ozone contained by the robust jet stream circling across the pole.”

The blending has a second impact, which is to heat the Arctic air. The hotter temperatures then make situations unfavorable for the formation of polar stratospheric clouds. These clouds allow the discharge of chlorine for ozone-depleting reactions. Ozone depleting chlorine and bromine come from chlorofluorocarbons and halons, the chemically energetic types of chlorine and bromine derived from human-made compounds that are actually banned by the Montreal Protocol. The blending shuts down this chlorine and bromine pushed ozone depletion.

In December 2019 and January by means of March of 2020, the stratospheric wave occasions had been weak and didn’t disrupt the polar winds. The winds thus acted like a barrier, stopping ozone from different elements of the ambiance from replenishing the low ozone ranges over the Arctic. As well as, the stratosphere remained chilly, resulting in the formation of polar stratospheric clouds which allowed chemical reactions to launch reactive types of chlorine and trigger ozone depletion.

“We do not know what brought on the wave dynamics to be weak this yr,” Newman mentioned. “However we do know that if we hadn’t stopped placing chlorofluorocarbons into the ambiance due to the Montreal Protocol, the Arctic depletion this yr would have been a lot worse.”

Since 2000, ranges of chlorofluorocarbons and different human-made ozone-depleting substances have measurably decreased within the ambiance and proceed to take action. Chlorofluorocarbons are long-lived compounds that take a long time to interrupt down, and scientists anticipate stratospheric ozone ranges to get well to 1980 ranges by mid-century.

NASA researchers desire the time period “depletion” over the Arctic, since regardless of the ozone layer’s document low this yr, the ozone loss continues to be a lot lower than the annual ozone “gap” that happens over Antarctica in September and October throughout Southern Hemisphere spring. For comparability, ozone ranges over Antarctica usually drop to about 120 Dobson items.

NASA, together with the Nationwide Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, screens stratospheric ozone utilizing satellites, together with NASA’s Aura satellite tv for pc, the NASA-NOAA Suomi Nationwide Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite tv for pc and NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite tv for pc System NOAA-20. The Microwave Limb Sounder aboard the Aura satellite tv for pc additionally estimates stratospheric ranges of ozone-destroying chlorine.

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