Ozone Layer Is Healing: The Hole Over Antarctic Is Slowly Filling Up Decades After Banning Harmful Chemicals

The fragile Antarctic ozone layer is on the mend, say researchers. The large hole over the polar region appears to be slowly filling up after two decades of banning the harmful chemicals that actively began destroying the ozone.

The Antarctic ozone layer, which has always shielded the Earth from the harmful ultraviolet rays, is slowly increasing. The layer was once being rapidly shrunk by chemicals commonly found in refrigerators and aerosol cans, but it is now slowly healing, indicated research published in the journal Science.

Speaking about the ozone layer being on the mend, Professor Susan Solomon of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who led the international team of researchers, said, “The ozone layer is expected to recover in response, albeit very slowly. We can now be confident that the things we’ve done have put the planet on a path to heal. We decided collectively, as a world, ‘Let’s get rid of these molecules’. We got rid of them, and now we’re seeing the planet respond.”

Solomon was crediting the growth of the ozone layer and, more specifically, the gradual shrinkage of the giant gaping hole above the Antarctic to the international policy set almost two decades ago. The 1987 “Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer,” which was jointly agreed to by many nations, vowed to limit and eventually phase out the production as well as usage of chemicals that accumulated over the polar region and actively destroyed the ozone layer.

The primary ozone destroyers were the chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) and halons. These chemicals were once abundantly used in refrigerators, aerosol cans, and dry cleaning chemicals, reported CNN. Ozone is essentially made of three oxygen atoms. The layer that engulfs the planet is basically like a giant but very fragile and invisible shield comprising of the ozone gas.

The ozone layer acts as a giant UV filter that keeps the harmful rays from penetrating Earth’s atmosphere. The layer protects all life on the planet. Without the ozone layer, all biological life on Earth would have been exposed to the rays, thereby exposing people to conditions like skin cancer, cataracts, and other dreaded diseases. Besides protecting the biological life, the ozone also ensures abundant crop yields that are safe to consume. Additionally, the layer ensures the rhythm of the sea, the ocean’s flora and fauna, and the food chain are all harmonized.

Interestingly, the existence of the ozone layer and its importance was discovered only in 1985, and within two short years, the world realized how it was rapidly eroding it. Researchers sent weather balloons to know about the invisible shield. Accordingly, the Montreal Protocol was born. According to an analysis of the composition of the gases above the Antarctic, researchers estimate the world released the maximum amount of ozone-destroying gases in the 1990s.

The gaping hole in the ozone layer above the Antarctic was about 10 million square miles (28 million square kilometers) in diameter. While the size is concerning, owing to the ban on the ozone-destroying chemicals and the voluntary transition to safer chemicals by majority of the manufacturers, the hole has shrunk by about 1.7 million square miles (4.5 million square kilometers), reported Fox News.

When will the ozone layer be whole again? The CFCs, unfortunately, have a “long staying power,” which means they can continue to stay in the upper atmosphere for quite a while. Assuming there is no considerable usage or release of the harmful chemicals in the future, the ozone hole above the Antarctic should be hopefully filled before 2050, reported RT. Worryingly, even volcanic activity can affect the fragile layer.

The ozone layer keeps growing and shirking depending on the weather conditions in the different seasons. However, as evident from the data, the hole is progressively shrinking, reported the Inquisitr.

[Photo by Loops7/Getty Images]