The 2023 Antarctic ozone hole, which expanded to 10 million square miles or 26 million square kilometers on September 21, marked the 12th largest occurrence since 1979, based on data collected by NASA and NOAA through satellite and balloon-based measurements.
POSITIVE SIGNS AMIDST THE OZONE HOLE
While the hole averaged 8.9 million square miles, roughly the size of North America, there’s a silver lining. “Declining levels of human-produced chlorine compounds, along with the influence of active Antarctic stratospheric weather, slightly improved ozone levels this year,” explains Paul Newman, former co-chair of the Scientific Assessment Panel to the Montreal Protocol.
A LONG-TERM RECOVERY EFFORT
Newman describes the 2023 ozone hole as “very modest,” emphasizing the importance of the long-term project to fully recover the layer. This recovery relies on continued adherence to the Montreal Protocol, as Meg Seki, Executive Secretary of the Ozone Secretariat, points out.
GUARDIAN OF LIFE ON EARTH
The ozone layer, often likened to a sunscreen, filters out up to 99% of harmful solar UV radiation, protecting humans, animals, and plants from the damaging effects of prolonged UV exposure, including sunburns, skin cancer, and eye cataracts.
ORIGINS AND THE MONTREAL PROTOCOL
This vital layer has been under threat since the 1980s when it was discovered that the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in everyday products like fridges and aerosols was causing severe thinning, often referred to as the “hole.” In response to this crisis, the Montreal Protocol was adopted in 1987, leading to the ban of CFCs and control of other ozone-depleting substances.
SLOW BUT STEADY PROGRESS
The latest quadrennial assessment from the Scientific Assessment Panel in 2022 shows slow progress in ozone layer recovery, with expectations of returning to pre-1980 levels by 2040. However, the more severe loss over Antarctica is predicted to recover around 2066, reminding us of the importance of ongoing vigilance and adherence to international agreements like the Montreal Protocol.