Ozone hole three times the size of Greenland opens over the North Pole

An ozone hole has opened over the North Pole
A satellite image shows the new ozone hole spreading over the North Pole. (Image credit: European Space Agency)

Scientists have detected what may be the largest hole in the ozone layer ever recorded over the North Pole.

The ozone hole covers an area roughly three times the size of Greenland, scientists from the European Space Agency (ESA) said in a statement, and could expose people living at far northern latitudes to high levels of ultraviolet radiation if it grows much larger. Fortunately, the hole looks likely to close on its own in the next few weeks, the ESA researchers said.

Holes form in the ozone layer — which is a sheet of gas in Earth's atmosphere that absorbs much of the harmful ultraviolet light emitted by the sun — every year over Antarctica due to seasonal changes in cloud cover. Ozone holes over the Arctic, however, are rarer. The last time an Arctic ozone hole opened was in 2011, and it was significantly smaller than the hole seen now, the researchers said.

"From my point of view, this is the first time you can speak about a real ozone hole in the Arctic," Martin Dameris, an atmospheric scientist at the German Aerospace Center, told Nature (opens in new tab).

Related: Banned ozone-depleting chemical was used illegally in China

The Antarctic ozone hole opens every year due to the combination of frigid temperatures and man-made pollution. When temperatures plummet at the start of Antarctica's winter, high-altitude clouds form over the South Pole. Industrial chemical pollutants, including chlorine and bromine, trigger reactions in these clouds that eat away at the surrounding ozone gas.

The Arctic, which has more variable temperatures, doesn't usually see the same ozone-depleting conditions, the researchers said. But this year, powerful winds trapped cold air in a "polar vortex" above the Arctic.  That led to colder temperatures and more high-altitude clouds than normal. Hence, North Pole ozone-depletion began.

Fortunately, with the sun slowly getting higher over the Arctic, atmospheric temperatures are already beginning to increase, which means the conditions causing the ozone hole should soon change, the researchers said. However, if the hole continues to expand south, Arctic residents — like those living in southern Greenland — may need to apply sunscreen to prevent UV damage.

The much larger Antarctic ozone hole will remain a seasonal feature, as it has for roughly four decades, though that hole has begun shrinking in size. A 2018 assessment by the World Meteorological Organization found that the southern ozone hole has been shrinking by about 1% to 3% per decade since the year 2000, with the 2019 hole measuring smaller than it ever has since 1982. The shrinking of the southern ozone hole is thanks largely to a global ban on ozone-depleting chemicals initiated in 1987, though some key nations still do not appear to be participating. According to a 2018 investigation, factories in China still appeared to be pumping large quantities of ozone-depleting chemicals into the atmosphere.

Originally published on Live Science.

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Brandon Specktor

Brandon is the space/physics editor at Live Science. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Reader's Digest, CBS.com, the Richard Dawkins Foundation website and other outlets. He holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from the University of Arizona, with minors in journalism and media arts. He enjoys writing most about space, geoscience and the mysteries of the universe.

  • 4umID
    admin said:
    A record- hole in the ozone layer has been detected over the North Pole, but it should disappear in a few weeks.

    Ozone hole three times the of Greenland opens over the North Pole : Read more
    Seems like a good opportunity to study ozone's effect on
    newly uncovered umtpeen-century-old microbes .
  • Hakan
    You may want to do a search for:
    Ozone layer: Banned CFCs traced to China say scientists”
  • Andy
    Arctic temps have been closer to normal over the winter, with the jet stream looking pretty healthy. Polarstern recorded some -100 f temps with wind chill. One problem goes away, another pops up.
  • 4umID
    Correcting typo - replace ozone w/ UV:
    Seems like a good opportunity to study UV's effect on
    newly uncovered umtpeen-century-old microbes .
  • Broadlands
    These very temporary seasonal 'holes' in the wind-driven ultacold polar vorticies are rapidly repaired and no net losses of ozone take place. The areal size has nothing to do with CFCs as they shrink and expand independently. The depletion is unrelated to the global ozone layer where the highest amounts are at the high latitudes and the lowest at the Equator.
  • Distraught
    6 month ago the hole was the smallest every. Now it's the largest. Someone needs to make up there mind. Or is it the same bullshit scientific information dreampt up by some moron environmentalist. Su ray don't pass through the North pole to the planet. Typical moronic environmentalist misconception .
  • Rodkeh
    The Arctic Ozone Hole is proof positive that CFC's and other ozone depleting chemicals were pure snake oil and none of those chemicals had any affect on ozone. It was just a con job like AGW and COVID-19.
  • Broadlands
    Why does 'Distraught' feel it was necessary to throw in his vulgarity to make a point?
  • escience
    Distraught and Rodkeh have nothing to worry about, UV won't penetrate into their mum's basement.
  • Hayseed
    I hear and read that many life forms use UV for sensing and detection. That means that UV radiation is common thru-out the ages. Doesn't the research say that dark skin developed to protect from UV radiation? I certainly would not assume ozone holes are new.

    The present puzzles are far more stimulating and meaningful than the fear of the future.

    We know everybody's future.