Study shows unprecedented loss of ozone above Arctic
At left, colors represent ozone levels in March 2011. At right, colors representing chlorine monoxide are shown.
October 3rd, 2011
01:51 PM ET

Study shows unprecedented loss of ozone above Arctic

Loss of the Earth’s ozone layer above the Arctic last winter was unprecedented, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory told CNN on Monday.

In findings published in a new study in the journal Nature, scientists said a hole in the ozone was caused by an unusually long period of low temperatures in the stratosphere, the protective layer that shields the Earth’s surface from harmful radiation.

While ozone loss is a sadly common occurrence at the South Pole, recent findings document a similar event happening at the Earth’s northernmost point. “We’ve never seen that kind of phenomenon in the Arctic before,” Michelle Santee, an atmospheric scientist with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said.

Although it was comparatively small - “The area of the Arctic loss zone was about 60% the size of a typical ozone hole,” Santee said - the ozone hole has raised concerns among atmospheric scientists.

“The same process that destroys the ozone layer in Antarctica chlorine and other man-made compounds such as CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) - takes place here also, but it’s just that it never occurred in the Arctic to the same degree,” Santee said.

Scientists from 19 international institutions took part in the study, according to a NASA press release.

The especially brutal cold temperatures experienced by much of the United States last winter have little to do with what’s going on in the stratosphere, Santee said.

“When we’re talking about the weather, we need to be clear we’re talking about weather in the stratosphere, not on the Earth’s surface. Cold conditions alone are not enough to cause such a phenomenon (ozone loss),” Santee said, “but you also need man-made compounds."

The ozone hole is relatively stable, Santee said.

“There’s a large weather pattern that keeps the area of extreme ozone loss confined to about 2 million square kilometers, or about five times the area of California,” Santee said. “But it does move around a little bit. It can shift around and it did drift above populated areas in March and April. This leads to greater values of UV radiation - but I should add that this was a very short time,” she said. “The exposure was very temporary.”

So long as the chlorine in the atmosphere remains elevated, ozone holes will be long-lived, atmospheric scientist Nathaniel Livesey said.

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Filed under: Science • Weather
soundoff (229 Responses)
  1. NothingBut

    Everyone wants to believe that they know. No one knows everything that humans are doing to this planet. Gestalt theory " the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts" describes what we don't know about what we're doing to make this planet uninhabitable for human life. What we don't know consists of more than we do know. Add it all up, rain forests cut down, increased number of cars for china, india, etc, in the coming years, fossil fuels, etc, etc... Who really knows???

    October 4, 2011 at 12:58 am | Report abuse |
  2. saywhat

    @ Mike
    you missed the sarcasm for sure.

    We like getting off on finding demons on far off lands & making wars.
    These petty issues like climate shouldn't bother our politicos or the leadership or us the public. The sorry state that this beloved country of ours is in shouldn't be of concern to us either. Right?

    October 4, 2011 at 1:03 am | Report abuse |
  3. jmh

    Why does our country continue to sell CFC products to other countries who do not have restrictions on their use. This is the height of hypocrisy.

    October 4, 2011 at 1:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Jimh77

      jmh, Because we can and we can get away with it for what ever reason. Wrong as it is and as stupid as it is. Why do we still have Flouride in our water? It is a heavy metal product, does squat for protecting our teeth and destroys our cells at a molecular structure. And yet, it is still in our water supply and almost all tooth paste. It is a cell killer. Why is cancer still a problem? Cancer was eradicated in 1969, Unfortunatley, all centers including the AMA decided a cure can not be made due to th4e amount of CASH that can be made from Cancer and the cure was destroyed. So much for the medical Oath.

      October 4, 2011 at 1:30 am | Report abuse |
  4. bigbang41upya

    chlorine acts as a catalyst in the stratosphere for the reaction that changes ozone (O3) into chlorine oxide then into chlorine and O2 and an oxygen ion. the nature of a catalyst is to speed up a reaction and be used again and again. one chlorine ion can break down hundreds of thousands of ozone molecules before stabilizing with another chlorine atom and becoming ineffective as a catalyst. stratospheric ice in the winter time makes it worse by creating a surface on which the reaction will take place. the ozone layer is only about 3 millimeters thick, yet is extremely important. there's nothing fishy about it. depletion of the ozone layer is simple chemistry. i'm a college student. people just need to be more responsible. why is that so hard?

    October 4, 2011 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
  5. bigbang41upya

    chlorine is not a common atmospheric gas, either. especially as high up as the stratosphere.

    October 4, 2011 at 1:20 am | Report abuse |
  6. one-up-ya

    @nothing but, no offense, you make a valid point, but then destroy it.we don't know evreything, but we know a heck of a lot more than nothing. For instance, beyond a shadow of doubt, one mesaly avreage volcano WILL in a few days of eruption, produce more CO2 than humans have in the last 100 years, why then do you bother being concerned with more cars, fossil fuel use in china or worldwide? There are thousands of active volcanos, not to mention the various other 'natural'CO2 sources on earth. No, we don't know everything, but we know our contribution (of CO2) to be virtually negligiable. How could it possibly be otherwise?

    October 4, 2011 at 1:23 am | Report abuse |
    • leonid

      According to USGS, volcanos on average, spew 200 million tons of CO2 annually. Humans? 26.8 BILLION. so, yeah, volcanos comprise less the 1% of the human contribution. which is a bit less than you implied.

      October 4, 2011 at 5:04 am | Report abuse |
  7. Rick Perry

    Great place to get a tan. It's part of Texas, isn't it?????????

    October 4, 2011 at 1:29 am | Report abuse |
  8. Wendon

    What am I missing here? Do I understand that last year's long cold spell caused the ozone loss? Isn't global warming supposed to take care of that problem??? You can't have both Global warming and Global cooling!

    October 4, 2011 at 1:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Zach Y

      You can have both, in a sense. First of all, the article is talking about cold temperatures in the stratosphere which begins somewhere between 6 and 10 miles above the surface. If you trap more of the heat near the surface, there is less heat that makes it to the upper atmosphere, and so it cools off. So, global (surface) warming goes hand in hand with global (stratospheric) cooling!

      Secondly, I'm going to assume you live on the east coast, or at least east of the Mississippi. It was pretty cold out there last winter, and it seems like it's getting pretty cold out there again already! But here's a concept that people in your area don't seem to get: When we talk about "global" anything, it doesn't mean the eastern US represents the whole world! Last winter the west was very mild. It's been pretty warm out here lately too! Around 80-85 degrees every day in Denver. So, just because it's cold where you are, doesn't mean it's cold everywhere. Last winter while the east was freezing, places in the arctic were experiencing record high temperatures.

      Also, don't tell me you've already forgotten this summer's heat wave? It's old news now right?

      October 4, 2011 at 1:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      It's atmospheric destabilization. The term "global warming" was and is sadly taken to mean surface temperature. Overall, yes - but the greater issue is the earth as a whole, including outer layers of atmosphere. Most people - like you, apparently - cannot understand the complex interactions of atmosphere and weather, so terms like "global warming" caught on. Sadly, any excuse not to take responsibility for the earth ALSO seems to catch on.

      October 4, 2011 at 3:22 am | Report abuse |
  9. ngc1300

    one-up-ya: cite a source for your data.

    October 4, 2011 at 1:48 am | Report abuse |
  10. mark

    did anyone notice that right outside of the hole is a very very thick layer of ozone???
    it seems that the chlorine monoxide is merely pushing the ozone away.......
    this may actually be a good thing

    October 4, 2011 at 1:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      Before or after the polar ice melts?? Finish your 5th grade education, then come back here and comment.

      October 4, 2011 at 3:23 am | Report abuse |
  11. one-up-ya

    @doubleback. You then are aware there is NOT a constant for the measurement you claim. C14 for instance, is known to be increasing, and has been for eons, literally, and has been higher, in the record, than current percentages, making it at all times, a very flexable ruler beyond even 5-8 hundred years, and your statement, well, a bit like tapping on a gators nose with your toes!

    October 4, 2011 at 1:53 am | Report abuse |


    October 4, 2011 at 1:56 am | Report abuse |
  13. ngc1300

    one-up-ya: cite a source for your claim that C14 has been increasing, and that one volcano pumps out more CO2 than 100 years of human activity.

    October 4, 2011 at 1:58 am | Report abuse |
  14. Bayousara

    Perhaps God has decided his experiment with humans on Earth was a bad idea an he is going to squish us like a bug and try something new. And we deserve it for not taking care of Mother Earth.

    October 4, 2011 at 2:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Jean Sartre, Milwaukee, WI

      Please site your proof for the existence of a God...

      October 4, 2011 at 3:53 am | Report abuse |
  15. one-up-ya

    @ngc1300. You have caught me unprepared. I had not the slightest notion that this wsa a contested fact as of a couple years ago. I'm no scientist, I will have to look at that, (C14) but first tell me if you would, if you believe it is fact that C14 has reached equalibria, and when (ca.). As to volcanic emmission, any decent encyclopedia details this. Still, I will refresh myself, and post results whether I'm right or wrong, if you truely wish it.

    October 4, 2011 at 2:19 am | Report abuse |
    • dbaba

      October 4, 2011 at 3:04 am | Report abuse |
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