The Hole Picture

This is how big the ozone hole would be if we hadn’t phased out CFCs.

May 28, 2015

Ozone in the Antarctic with the Montreal Protocol (left) and without (right). Illustrated by Chipperfield et al, Nature Communications.

Thirty years ago this May, scientists first described the Antarctic ozone hole in Nature. And for the discovery’s pearl anniversary, a new study in Nature Communications gives us a picture of the even more pockmarked atmosphere that would have occurred had we not taken swift action. Without the 1987 Montreal Protocol—an international treaty that phased out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other refrigerants, propellants, and aerosols that deplete atmospheric ozone—the Antarctic hole would have ballooned 40 percent by 2013. Meanwhile, the smaller hole over the Arctic would have grown enough to affect northern Europe, and the thinning of the ozone layer over the middle latitudes would have doubled.

The hole still has a long recovery ahead, since ozone-depleting substances tend to linger long past their welcome. Even so, Tuesday's study says the international effort helped prevent a whole lot of sunburns (along with skin cancer, cataracts, and crop damage). So when governments take science-backed action on a manmade atmospheric problem, we can avoid terrible consequences. Hmm, I wonder what other situation we could apply this lesson to…

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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