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Russia’s North faces danger from the Arctic ozone hole

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Russia’s subpolar regions may find themselves affected by a newly discovered hole in the ozone layer above the Arctic, according to the British science weekly Nature.

Russia’s subpolar regions may find themselves affected by a newly discovered hole in the ozone layer above the Arctic, according to the British science weekly Nature. The journal reported that the depletion of the ozone layer this year is the most serious on record and that the hole is likely to expand even further.

Ozone alarm in the North

In summary of the latest observations of the Arctic ozone layer, the journal Nature reported that this hole, which was discovered in 2011, is likely to be some 2 million square kilometers in size.

Unlike the Antarctic hole in the ozone layer, which was discovered back in 1985, the hole over the Arctic may affect some densely populated areas, including in Russia’s North.

The thickness of the Arctic ozone layer is continuously changing. But according to this year’s assessments, the extent to which it is being depleted is comparable for the first time to the situation in the southern hemisphere, where a hole appeared several decades ago and has not decreased in size ever since. The Arctic ozone loss recorded in the winter of 2011 was double that of the two previous records, set in 1996 and 2005.

The international research community voiced its alarm over these findings in the spring. The World Meteorological Organization said in an April report that “the Arctic region has suffered an ozone column loss of about 40% from the beginning of the winter to late March. The highest ozone loss previously recorded was about 30% over the entire winter.”

This change that was reported was no longer a matter of seasonal fluctuations. It indicated a considerable depletion of our planet’s protective shield and the risk of a hole appearing in the ozone layer. According to Neil Harris of Cambridge University, this is the first time that ozone researchers have talked about the problem in this way.

Observation points in northern Europe and in the European part of Russia have already recorded an increase in ultraviolet radiation. This increase is still too small to be considered hazardous, but the trend is certainly alarming.

If the situation does not improve over time and the Arctic ozone hole continues to expand, Scandinavia and northern Russia may see higher incidences of skin cancer and more cases of eye cataracts, researchers warn.

Winter chills

In contrast to the stable Antarctic hole, the ozone layer over the Arctic fluctuates dramatically in size. Stratospheric clouds formed in the northern hemisphere as a result of several cold winters in a row are cited as one of the possible causes for this year’s record ozone loss.

Researchers fear that the situation could get worse. They say that recent climate change tends to cause an increase in the amplitude of seasonal temperature fluctuations, and that a new string of abnormally cold winters may lead to further records in Arctic ozone layer depletion.

Markus Rex, of Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, argues that "since the conditions leading to this unusually rapid ozone depletion continue to prevail, we expect further depletion to occur."

Industrial chemicals

Still, ozone layer depletion appears to be largely the result of human activities. Scientists say that chlorofluorocarbons (or CFCs, also known by the trade name Freon), released into the atmosphere as a result of human industrial activity, break apart when exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, releasing chlorine and bromine atoms. According to ozone researchers, these atoms pose the greatest threat to the Earth’s protective shield.

Massive-scale chlorofluorocarbon emissions have caused a dramatic depletion of the ozone layer. In 1987, the first step was made toward limiting the production and consumption of compounds that deplete ozone in the stratosphere. The new restrictions were formalized in the so-called Montreal Protocol.

This helped stabilize the situation somewhat, but unfortunately, there is no way of cleansing the stratosphere of the pollutants that are already there. So we can only wait for this cleansing to occur naturally, and to try not to pollute in the future.

Scientists are cautiously optimistic about the Antarctic ozone hole, which they expect to begin shrinking in the second half of the 21st century. As for the stratosphere over the Arctic, they say it may return to the condition it was in in the 1970s a little sooner, in about 20-30 years’ time.  

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti

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