Good News and Bad News About the Ozone Hole

Image via NASA

Good news: The hole is getting smaller. Bad news: It was keeping temps lower.

Alarming new research has come to light that further illustrates the severity of global warming. According a recently published report from the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, the ozone hole, which is linked to causing skin-cancer, cataracts, damage to plant-life, and a reduction of the plankton population--has also been reducing the effects of global warming in Antarctica by keeping the temperature at the pole artificially low.

As the ozone hole continues to get smaller because of increased regulations regarding the use of ozone depleting gases in recent decades, the temperature of the icy continent will rise--causing more melting, more ice-sheet separation, and a more dramatic effect on global weather systems than previously thought.The ozone, which is important for deflecting UV rays cutting through the atmosphere, plays a primary, though delicate, role in shaping the planet's climate systems. When solar energy passes through the ozone layer, the temperature in the stratosphere is warmed, keeping the temperature cooler in the troposphere, or surface layer, underneath. Having a hole in the ozone has altered this dynamic by allowing the energy to pass through the stratosphere, keeping it cooler. The artificially cooled stratosphere then absorbs the heat from the troposphere, which creates cooling on the Earth's surface. In a word, the dynamic between atmospheric layers are switched underneath the ozone hole above the South Pole, making the area colder than it would be if the ozone were not damaged.

"Removal of the cooling effect of the ozone hole as it diminishes in extent will exacerbate the problem (of warming,)" says the report.

As the hole gets smaller and the temperature at the Pole increases, this will have a catastrophic consequence on global weather. The cool temperature caused by the hole has intensified wind patterns which have kept the northern climes warm and the Pole cold--without the hole, the report claims, this pattern will become reversed bringing dramatic warming to Antarctica.

Before you run out to buy silly string and Freon again, climate modeling expert Wenju Cai warns:

Even if ozone does not recover, greenhouse gasses will overtake the cooling effect of ozone in the upper atmosphere.

Paleoclimatologist Tas van Ommen, one of 100 contributors to the report, says that ice cores collected in Antarctica reveal a dramatic increase in warming gases over the last century, calling the levels "unprecedented" in the last 800,000 years--and "probably a lot longer than that."

While the findings in this report may be troubling, it should only serve to stoke the fervor to reduce global warming. The fact that the ozone hole is becoming smaller, due in no small part to a world-wide collaborative effort to ban the gases that deplete it, should offer an encouraging lesson as we move ahead with our efforts to reduce greenhouse gases--even as we discover that the brunt of global warming may be worse than we previously thought.

More on the Ozone
Ozone Layer Shifting, More UV Radiation in Tropics and Antarctica Predicted by Physicists
Ozone Depletion Contributes to Ocean Acidification
Ozone Could Slash Global Crop Yields by 40% by Century's End

Tags: Antarctica | Global Climate Change

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