A "record-level" ozone hole formed over the Arctic in February and March of 2020 — three times the size of Greenland — and then simply closed up and disappeared last April. The ozone layer, a tenuous boundary of an isotope of oxygen (O3) in the upper atmosphere, acts to shield the planet from too much harmful ultraviolet light from the Sun.
It's been a third of a century since the Montreal Protocol was signed in 1987, garnering the world's efforts to staunch the ozone layer being depleted by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), chemicals used as refrigerants, aerosol in spray cans, solvents and a wide array of other uses. To the surprise of even those signing the agreement though, the thinning of the ozone layer had more or less ceased as early as 1991 — far too soon to credit a treaty whose ink had hardly dried — and even as concentrations of CFCs increased in the atmosphere until 1998.
Yet in the midst of all this Al Gore was writing in 1992 that "hunters now report finding blind rabbits and fishermen catch blind salmon," infusing a legitimate scientific concern with the scaremongering catastrophism so prevalent among self-styled activists. Certainly, no thinking person cares to harm the planetary buffer that protects all life on Earth, however after decades of studying the matter there is some diversity of opinion now concerning what may be a more complete view of the thickening and thinning of the planet's ozone shield.
Concerning the effects of the CFC ban, scientists at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) posit that the seasonal Antarctic ozone hole has been shrinking by about 1% to 3% per decade since 2000. Even with 197 countries signing on and achieving a 98% compliance rate worldwide, since CFCs can remain in the atmosphere for some 80 years, the WMO predicts it may be not until sometime around 2060 or 2070 that the Antarctic hole is completely "healed."
CFCs are not only long-lived but heavy gasses as well — four times heavier than air. It certainly isn't that easy for those compounds released at the surface to rise the nine to eighteen miles to reach the stratosphere and the ozone layer. Being so long-lived though, CFCs can persist long enough to catch rides on updrafts that sooner or later deposit them high enough up in the atmosphere to do their damage.
Volcanoes too, however, shoot gases high into the atmosphere. And one of the most active on Earth is Mr. Erebus in Antarctica. Observations in 1989 detected aerosol particles identified as volcanic ejecta of Erebus at a height of 8 kilometers over Antarctica. In 2015, in a paper published in the scholarly journal, Atmospheric Environment, "Antarctic Ozone Depletion Caused by Erebus Volcano Gas Emissions," scientists determined that "Erebus is a natural and powerful source of stratospheric hydrogen chloride and sulfur dioxide, and hence, the cause of the Antarctic ozone depletion, together with man-made chlorofluorocarbons."
So, as with other supposed environmental disasters having turned out to be something more than the reflexive tendency to paint humankind as the font of all supposed dysfunction on Earth, science may have been ill-served in this matter, yet again. There might indeed be a cyclical thickening and thinning of the polar ozone holes; it could be a natural phenomenon linked to plate tectonics and volcanism.
And, yes, it may have little to do with mankind's evil predilection to wish to blind all the salmon and rabbits on Earth.
David Nabhan is a science writer, the author of "Earthquake Prediction: Dawn of the New Seismology" (2017) and three previous books on earthquakes. Nabhan is also a science fiction writer ("Pilots of Borealis," 2015) and the author of many scores of newspaper and magazine op-eds. Nabhan has been featured on television and talk radio all over the world. His website is www.earthquakepredictors.com. Read David Nabhan's Reports — More Here.
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