The ozone hole has shrunk to a record low, according to new measurements from Antarctica.
The hole in the ozone layer developed during the early 1980s and was caused by human-produced chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
The hole develops every year between September and November. CFCs have been phased out of use by international agreement, reports CBS News.
The new observations were released by the European Space Agency (ESA) on February 8. The ozone layer’s shrinking is attributed to the phasing out of CFCs. The 2012 hole was smaller than it has ever been over the past 10 years.
Antarctica is especially vulnerable to ozone-depleting substances like CFCs. The ozone layer is made up of molecules from three oxygen atoms. It is highly concentrated and occupies the stratosphere around 12 to 19 miles above the Earth.
Yahoo! News notes that the ozone is particularly useful, because it protects ultraviolet (UV) light from reaching the Earth’s surface. UV light causes sunburns and skin cancer. High winds in Antarctica cause a vortex of cold air to circulate over the entire continent.
CFCs are more effective at depleting the ozone in colder temperatures. This means that people living in the Southern Hemisphere are more likely to be exposed to UV radiation.
CFCs persist in the atmosphere to this day, even though they were phased out a long time ago. It could take until the middle of this century for them to disappear completely. That also means that it could take the same amount of time for the ozone concentrations in the atmosphere to return to pre-1960s levels.
The most recent measurements show, however, that the ozone hole will continue to shrink until it completely closes in the next few decades.
[Image via Wikimedia Commons]