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Researchers are predicting a major ozone hole will open up over the Arctic this spring. That’s the North Pole, not the South Pole, where we are used to seeing a depletion of ozone. The hole could be massive, even larger than the huge hole that opened in 2011.

The cause appears to be partly because the polar vortex — jet stream winds that kept cold air near the North Pole this winter — cooled the upper atmosphere, partly because of global warming and partly because of lingering refrigeration pollutants. The same polar vortex that kept cold winds from Europe and the United States this winter has helped open the hole.

Lingering chlorofluorocarbon compounds from refrigeration systems, air conditioning and even spray cans that were outlawed around the world by the 1989 Montreal Protocol remain part of the problem. As it turns out, those refrigerant chlorine compounds that destroy ozone have a long life and will continue to affect us well into this century.

Heat Map of the Globe

The red area near the north polar ice cap marks the huge developing ozone hole that will increase ultraviolet exposure over much of Europe, Canada and Russia.
Source: Goddard Space Flight Center

Naturally forming nitric acid, observed in clouds in the Arctic this year, is an additional culprit. Meanwhile, scientists are concerned that our warming planet will create even larger ozone holes in the future. It may seem counterintuitive, but gases like CO2 that create a greenhouse effect at lower altitudes also cause significant cooling of the upper atmosphere, making the ozone problem worse.

The combination of factors means a loss of as much as 25% of the Arctic ozone layer this year. The hole could expose people in Canada, Russia and Europe to the same amount of unhealthy solar ultraviolet light as people living in Florida get. Plant life, including phytoplankton blooms critical to sea life, could be adversely affected.

Scientists at NASA Goddard are among those continuing to monitor the hole’s formation. You can find updated maps of the ozone layer here.

To your health and wealth,

Stephen L. Petranek,
For, The Daily Reckoning

The Daily Reckoning