We usually only get to report bad news when it comes to the environment, except for a few stories about people believing in climate change and new products that help make our planet greener. So when researchers find good news about our planet, it’s always an exciting find.
According to Europe’s MetOp weather satellite’s 2012 data, the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica seems to have shrunk and the size is at a record low. The hole originally appeared in the early 1980s due to the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other ozone-depleting chemicals, according to LiveScience.
Ozone is a molecule made of three oxygen atoms. It’s relatively highly concentrated in a particular layer of the stratosphere about 12 miles to 19 miles (20 to 30 kilometers) above Earth’s surface. This ozone layer prevents ultraviolet light from reaching Earth’s surface — a good thing, given that UV light causes sunburn and skin cancer.
Antarctica is particularly vulnerable to ozone-depleting substances, because high winds cause a vortex of cold air to circulate over the continent. In the resulting frigid temperatures, CFCs are especially effective at depleting ozone. The result is that people in the Southern Hemisphere are at increased risk of exposure from UV radiation.
“It happened to be a bit warmer this year high in the atmosphere above Antarctica, and that meant we didn’t see quite as much ozone depletion as we saw last year, when it was colder,” stated Jim Butler, who is affiliated with NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, in 2012 to Live Science.
The findings suggest that the phase-out of CFC is working—200 countries signed an international agreement to limit production of chemicals that harms the ozone layer in 1987 and by 2006, according to the U.N., the countries had reduced the use of those substances by 95 percent. Still, CFCs still exists in the atmosphere and it has been reported that it could take three to four more decades for the ozone concentrations to reach 1960s levels. That said, scientists have predicted that the ozone over Antarctica should eventually completely close.