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Ozone hole over Antarctic hits record size

The Antarctic ozone hole has expanded this month to one of its biggest sizes on record, UN and US scientists say, insisting that the Earth-shielding ozone layer remains on track to long-term recovery but residents of the southern hemisphere should be on alert for high UV levels in the weeks ahead.

ozone depletion

Credit: Stuart Rankin/Flickr

According to NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists, the Antarctic ozone hole, which typically reaches its annual peak area between mid-September and early October, formed more slowly this year but quickly expanded to cover a larger area of low ozone values than the past few years.

While the current ozone hole area is large, this area is consistent with scientists’ understanding of ozone depletion chemistry and the colder than average 2015 stratospheric weather conditions, which contribute to ozone depletion, explained NASA in its official website.

Observations show that the hole -- formed as a result of depletion of the crucial, radiation-shielding ozone layer -- was spread across an area of 10.9 million square miles -- covering a region larger than the continent of North America -- on Oct. 2. In comparison, the hole peaked at 9.3 million square miles last year.

Image: Southern Hemisphere sunbathers should protect themselves this year, as the ozone hole over Antarctica hit a record size, despite signs that the ozone layer is recovering. (Daniel Munoz/Reuters)

It was a record for a hole recorded on Oct. 2 of any year, and the hole has remained at daily record levels on every day since then, the WMO said, citing data from NASA.

"This shows us that the ozone hole problem is still with us and we need to remain vigilant. But there is no reason for undue alarm," WMO Atmospheric and Environment Research Division senior scientist Geir Braathen said in a statement.

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The 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer banned the use of harmful chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and is credited with restoring ozone to the stratosphere – most notably in the hole over Antarctica – although it’s worth noting that it took decades for scientists to observe any progress being made against the depletion.

“The Montreal Protocol is in place and is working well,“ said Braathen. ”But we may continue to see large Antarctic ozone holes until about 2025 because of weather conditions in the stratosphere and because ozone-depleting chemicals linger in the atmosphere for several decades after they have been phased out.”

Video: Ozone Layer

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