Readers may remember the scare over the hole in the ozone layer that appeared over Antarctica and had been growing at an alarming rate. That layer protected the Earth from dangerous levels of ultraviolet radiation and the danger posed by the hole resulted in concerted action to try and combat it. The 1987 Montreal Protocol targeted the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)that were believed to be the main cause of the rupture and the good news is that those efforts seem to be bearing fruit.
A gaping hole in the ozone layer has been opening up over Antarctica each spring for decades. And now there are signs that the slow process of healing has begun, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science.
Scientists credit this progress to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, an international treaty that phased out chemicals that eat away at the ozone layer, which shields our planet from deadly levels of radiation.
“The healing of the Antarctic stratospheric ozone level is the most significant environmental success story of the 20th century,” Michael Newchurch, an atmospheric chemist at the University of Alabama at Huntsville who was not part of the study, tells The Christian Science Monitor.
Solomon’s new research finds that the ozone hole has shrunk by over 1.5 million square miles in September since 2000, which is about half of the area of the contiguous United States.
“This is further evidence that phasing out the CFCs and other ozone depleting chemicals is working to heal the ozone layer,” David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council who was not part of the study, tells the Monitor.
“The bad news is that we really messed up the ozone layer,” he says. “The good news is that we can save the ozone layer and we are restoring it by eliminating these manmade chemicals that are responsible for the damage.”
The paper, published in the latest issue of the journal Science, can be seen here (subscription required).
What seems incredible now is that scientists first published work on the problems caused by CFCs in the upper atmosphere in 1973. Of course, the manufacturers of those chemicals (like DuPont) ridiculed those findings and it was the discovery of the sudden increase of the hole in 1985 that so galvanized governments around the world that action was quickly taken.
Newchurch says the Montreal Protocol is a good example of the scientific process in action. Scientists were able to determine what was triggering this ozone depletion and how humans could fix it. “It is the best process we know for solving real, physical problems,” he says of the scientific process.
Unfortunately, we see that nowadays with even more serious problems like global warming and climate change, people are ignoring the danger and listening to wealthy industrialists rather than scientists. In the US, the rise of anti-science religious sentiment that denies that there is a problem and feels confident that everything is safely in god’s hands, combined with an ultra-nationalist attitude that sees cooperating with the rest of the world as a sign of weakness, is slowing down any similar action.