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Satellite data shows this year’s ozone hole one of the biggest on record

The uncertainty of science: New data from Europe’s Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite has determined that the ozone hole this year over the south pole was one of the biggest on record.

The hole, which is what scientists call an ‘ozone depleting area,’ reached a size of 26 million sq km on 16 September 2023. This is roughly three times the size of Brazil.

The size of the ozone hole fluctuates on a regular basis. From August to October, the ozone hole increases in size – reaching a maximum between mid-September and mid-October. When temperatures high up in the stratosphere start to rise in the southern hemisphere, the ozone depletion slows, the polar vortex weakens and finally breaks down, and by the end of December ozone levels return to normal.

Despite the claims of scientists that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were creating the hole, requiring their ban in refrigerators, air conditioning, and aerosol sprays in 1987, the arrival of the ozone hole each year is actually a normal seasonal occurance caused by the interaction of the Earth’s tilt and the impact of solar radiation on the upper atmosphere. More interaction, and oxygen molecules break-up into ozone. Less interaction, and there is less ozone.

Thus, despite the ban of these products now for almost forty years, the size of the ozone hole continues to fluctuate significantly from year to year, for reasons that are not yet understood entirely. Some scientists attribute this year’s large size to a volcanic eruption in 2022, but this is merely a theory, not yet proved.

It also must be noted that when the ban was imposed in 1987, we only had data of the ozone hole going back a decade or so. Environmentalists posited then that the hole hadn’t existed before CFCs, but they really hadn’t known that. It will likely take a century of research to really get a good idea of the hole’s normal behavior from year to year. We might find that there was no reason to ban CFCs, that the hole is a natural seasonal occurance like snow in winter and heat in summer.

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  • David Eastman

    While I’m not disagreeing with your argument that the ozone hole is mostly natural, we also can’t say that it’s continued presence and even growth after the banning of CFCs is relevant, as there is a well documented and thriving black market in old style CFCs in Asia, and of course being a third world black market, the amount of CFC leaked into the atmosphere from those producers, providers and consumers is actually a much higher percentage of the product used than when it was a legitimate product. One small study found that there might actually be more CFCs going into the atmosphere than there were pre-ban, but it was a small study and they got no support or funding for expanding the scope to determine the real answer.

  • Rex Ridenoure

    “Some scientists attribute this year’s large size to a volcanic eruption in 2022, but this is merely a theory, not yet proved.”

    Then it’s still a hypothesis. If proved, it becomes theory.

  • David Ross

    “One small study found that there might actually be more CFCs going into the atmosphere than there were pre-ban”
    CFCs are naturally produced by chlorine and fluorine in ocean salt, and by volcanoes. The Tonga eruption featured both.

  • Mike Borgelt

    The Brits found the ozone hole above Antarctica in 1954, before CFC’s were in use. The UV getting through was measured in Dobbs units after the guy doing the measurements.

  • Mike Borgelt

    There is another problem withe the CFC/ozone depletion hypothesis. The reactions were allegedly well understood but around maybe 10 years ago a researcher simulated the environmental conditions in the lab and found a critical intermediate reaction ran about ten times too slow for the hypothesis to be true.
    Early in the first Clinton term, NASA did a giant ozone study with satellites, balloons, U-2’s etc. The intermediate reaction products were found at 5 to 10% of the hypothesised levels. Al Gore ensured the results were buried. This was via a post on the late Jerry Pournelle’s Chaos Manor blog around ten years ago.

  • Rex Ridenoure: Though I know the distinction you note is the more proper way to use these terms, I also know that many modern “theories” are not proved, and in fact it is not unusual for many to fall by the wayside with new data.

    In this sense the terms are synonyms, words that describe models that further research can always disprove.

  • Jeff Wright

    Antarctica is home to one of only 4-5 volcanic lakes…Mt. Erebus…where that Dante robot got stuck a few decades ago.

    I think climatologists may not know this…people know more and more about fields that narrow….it doesn’t pay to be a generalist.

    Antarctica to many is just a melting ice sheet scientists drill holes in. It is a continent same as any other.

    Last time a northern hole appeared was around when Spurr and Redoubt de-gassed.

    You’d think the big ozone hole would be the North Pole…but that’s water surrounded by land.

    Antarctica isn’t as near smokestacks—but it is land surrounded by water so it is a bit colder…and it leans away from the Sun when Earth is farthest from said Sun.

    Where North America widens the farther north you go allowing similar continental cold air masses to build….South America is widest near the equator and things as it stretches south… moderated by Maritime air.

    So—both at once–South America is warmer than North America–while the South Pole is colder than the North Pole—which is why the big hole is there, despite the Southern Hemisphere having very little in the way of factories/emissions.

  • Cluebat

    This can’t be right.

    I am absolutely certain that environmentalists have already saved us from this existential threat.

    I remember the victory laps. Happened right after they saved the world’s dolphin community.

  • pouncer

    Of “theory” my sequence runs: Notice. Conjecture. Suggestion. Hypothesis. Theory. Natural Law.

    1. “Hmmm. That’s funny.”

    2 “Hey, look at this. Any ideas about what’s going on?”

    3. “Our work indicates there may be a causal relationship between ,,,”

    4. “Data from well-controlled experiments indicates that random chance is insufficient to account for the observed correlation between … ”

    5. “Repeated attempts to demonstrate alternative interpretations have so far failed to…”

    6. “Outcomes predicted by the theory and experiment finally have been observed in nature during … “

  • pzatchok

    I never believed it was human caused.

    It was a test for the global warming religion. If you believed in one you could be convinced into believing the other.

    For the majority of the human population they are more than happy to be told by “professionals” what is right and correct.
    Critical thinking is too hard. Sports and entertainment YEH!!!!

  • Phill O

    I could boast of getting 100% on a physical chemistry exam and the prof using my way of doing this problem of CFCs in the class after, but I will not. (yah right) My prof was doing gas phase kinetics and was well published.

    Ozone is created in the upper atmosphere by interaction of ultraviolet light with oxygen to make a O radicle, which then can interact with another oxygen molecule to for ozone. CFCs also can interact with the O radicle and remove them from the equation, thus reducing ozone.

    However, sulphur dioxide will scavenge the radicles. When Pinitobo blew, there was considerable SO2 injected into the upper atmosphere and for 2 years there was cooler summers on the Canadian prairies.

    So, with no background data, no consideration for the lack of sunlight for significant parts of the year at both poles, errors were perpetuated.

  • Joe F

    I have been suspicious of the connection between CFCs and the ozone hole for quite a while. For me it is comes down to a few facts: that most CFCs are generated in the northern hemisphere, the atmosphere in the NH does not mix with the southern hemisphere very well, and the ozone hole in the SH is larger than the one in the NH. How do all those CFCs migrate to towards the south pole? I have never seen that explained by proponents of banning CFCs.
    Thanks for what you do here Robert.

  • Max

    The reason you seldom here about CFCs and ozone depletion anymore because the theory has largely been debunked. The molecule that makes up chlorofluorocarbon is heavier than air and sinks into the soil or the ocean.

    “the ocean primarily acts as a repository for CFCs, drawing these water-soluble chemicals — once used in refrigerants, insulation and aerosol cans — from the atmosphere and sequestering them in the deep sea“

    The “revised theory” claims we will have something to worry about in a couple of hundred years if the oceans warm considerably…
    “A new study suggests the ocean will begin emitting CFC-11 by about 2075, and that there will be detectable amounts of the chemical in the atmosphere in the first part of the 22nd century”

    Are illegal sources of CFCs increasing in our atmosphere? The studies that measure concentrations do not substantiate this. (all measurements before 1980 are estimates, the others in this chart are measured in parts per trillion… that’s 12 zeros in front of the number)

    Dupont supported “activist organizations” and lobbied Congress to ban cheap CFCs, (which outgrew the extension on their patent letting others create it cheaply) so that everyone would need to use its new product which was actually worse for the environment and less effective as refrigerant requiring more energy to use at 10 to 30 times the cost! They made billions off of fake science… Just as pharmaceuticals are today.
    As the unproven theory goes, highly stable heavy CFCs, which do not break down in AC units unless in extreme temperatures, Will somehow float above the stratosphere, into the 2000° thermosphere of the earth (above most satellites) where strong UV will break down the molecule releasing the chlorine. Then what doesn’t blow away with the solar wind, will return to earth to act as a catalyst above the troposphere at 20 to 60 miles converting Ozone into oxygen. (“destroying ozone” is sensationalism because matter cannot be created or destroyed only changed) this process has only been performed in a laboratory, in real life the chlorine reacts violently with hydrogen in space forming hydrochloric acid, and ignores the oxygen entirely.
    Also in real life; why do we make such a big deal about a heavy molecule measured in parts per trillion doing all this fantasy damage when it becomes free chlorine? why didn’t they ban chemically identical free chlorine in swimming pools, washing machines, drinking water, or chlorine salt in the ocean? (if you remove the salt from the ocean and make a big pile, there’s enough to make a continent the size of Europe)
    The only way free chlorine is reaching the stratosphere, as others have pointed out, is volcanoes. When Mount Fuji? volcano irrupted in the late 80s (or it may have been Pinitobo) A special shuttle mission was sent up to measure the ozone hole above the volcano… A year later they announced that they know the hole was there, but their equipment was not sensitive enough to measure it. The salt water blown out by the volcano form natural CFCs but the sulfur and dust overwhelmed the instruments.

    Ozone is formed from sunlight breaking apart oxygen (02) the free radicals recombining the form nitrous oxide, (NO2) and Ozone (O3). As long as there is oxygen in the air, and the sun is shining, Ozone will form. When the sunsets, Ozone and nitrous oxide will give up its energy, reacting with each other turning the sky green as seen from the space station, and reform normal nitrogen and oxygen molecules dropping ozone levels from 9 ppm down to 3 ppm every night.
    “The average amount of ozone in the atmosphere is roughly 300 Dobson Units, equivalent to a layer 3 millimeters (0.12 inches) thick—the height of 2 pennies stacked together. What scientists call the Antarctic Ozone “Hole” is an area where the ozone concentration drops to an average of about 100 Dobson Units. One hundred Dobson Units of ozone would form a layer only 1 millimeter thick if it were compressed into a single layer, about the height of a dime“

    Does Ozone protect us from UV radiation? Yes, in the percentage of its amount… 3 to 9 ppm means it will block 3 to 9 particles out of a million particles. Statistically unimportant. Oxygen and nitrogen do all the real work, Ozone is merely the proof of that.

    So what is really causing a 2/3 thinning of Ozone over Antarctica every southern spring in September? Do you know what polar stratospheric clouds are? The gases captured by our magnetic field from the solar wind especially ejections from Coronal holes and solar flares?
    Normally billions of tons of these gases of methane and ammonia burn off creating aurora borealis, northern lights or southern Borealis when the temperature is warmer. (This is the primary reason for rising ocean levels 5 to 8 inches per century)
    The temperature over Antarctica is so cold that the reaction doesn’t take place. Huge clouds of stratospheric gases build up through the dark winter until UV radiation at the coming of spring burn them off depleting Ozone for a short time, creating water that is added to the ice cap. On average about a foot of water a year, more during active sun cycles. That’s why south pole base is on stilts to lift it up when needed in the second driest climate on earth. (The hundred foot high short wave radio antenna at the original buildings 60 year anniversary was only 40 feet high)

    When Lovelock’s machine was sampling stratospheric gases during the famous U2 flight over Antarctica, the pilot recorded that the clouds we’re so thick that he couldn’t see the stars at 60,000 feet, couldn’t see the ground… A very terrifying experience with the temperatures being so cold that the wings could crack and break off. Lovelocks work is been misrepresented for political reasons still today, Al Gore was the worst.

    Conclusion? The size of ozone thinning is proportional to the activity of the sun, charged hydrogen gases attracted by/and captured and held in place by our magnetic field.
    Sorry, no connection to humans.

  • Edward

    Much of what Max wrote is consistent with what I have learned over the past four decades.

    To add detail to his explanation of why the “hole” only occurs over Antarctica and not over the Arctic: during the winter (Southern Hemisphere), “precursor” chemicals form in the cold (“Huge clouds of stratospheric gases“) while there is no sunshine. Once the Sun peeks over the horizon, around September (equinox), the UV from the Sun reacts with the precursor chemicals, which along with the sunshine react with the ozone, and break an oxygen atom off the ozone, turning the molecule back into regular gaseous O2. As Max noted, the Arctic does not get cold enough for the precursor chemicals to collect to cause damage to the ozone, so there is no corresponding Arctic “hole” in March and April.

    All this means that this time of year is when the “hole” in the ozone forms. It is why we hear about “the largest hole ever measured” in early October but not other times of the year.

    The measurements of the “hole” is just the area in which the ozone levels drop below 1/3 to 1/2 of the “normal” level. The colorful charts carefully do not drop to zero ozone but become black or gray at a low but measurable level of ozone. All it does is make it look as though the Earth has a problem, where we are intended to infer that the hole will eventually grow to consume the entire planet, destroying all life as we know it.

    Finally, we only have a few years of ozone measurements from the UARS satellite,* in the early 1990s, and not much measured by the current satellite, mentioned in the article. With so few years of data, it is likely that any given September will give a “biggest ever” measured ozone “hole.” As it is, it took Copernicus Sentinel-5P six years to find a year with a “biggest ever hole.” The recent volcano may have guaranteed this year’s “biggest hole.”

    My conclusion: people are using good science to hype a non-existent problem. Any time the data makes something look worse than before, it is hyped in the news by Chicken Littles to make it sound as though a non-problem is an existential (yes, that word is used correctly) threat, and we must bow to beneficent governments (whose emperors are parading down the street) in order to save us from the falling sky. In today’s culture of blacklisting, every time the kid exclaims “The Emperor has no clothes,” he is summarily cancelled, teaching the rest of the kids to stay quiet. Beneficence at its finest. Go along to get along.
    I worked on one of the experiments that went up on this satellite, and another department in my building made the CLAES instrument that detected various atmospheric chemicals, including ozone and precursor chemicals.

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