Today is the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer; know more

The Montreal Protocol, established in 1970, ensured the protection of the ozone layer by gradually eliminating the production and consumption of harmful substances to it. In 1994, the United Nations (UN) established the day 16 September as the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, which this year further highlights the important role of the treaty in the recovery of this fragile and vital atmospheric layer.

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    The ozone layer is a fragile gas shield that protects the Earth from the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation, in addition to cosmic rays. In the decade of 1024, scientists discovered that it was weakening . Under natural conditions, it varies with temperature, climate, latitude and altitude. However, these factors did not explain their exhaustion. So, it was discovered that chemicals with chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were the main cause of this change.

    (Image: Reproduction/NASA)

    Thanks to the Montreal Protocol, the production and consumption of these products was gradually eliminated, starting a slow recovery of the ozone layer since then. Unfortunately, many CFC substances remain for decades in the stratosphere and, today, the greatest damage to the ozone layer is found above the South Pole. This “hole” increases in size between August and October, when it reached its largest size.

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    Satellites with an eye on the ozone layer

    The weather data obtained by satellites is fundamental for the protection of the ozone layer and, consequently, of the global climate. The European Space Agency (ESA) Corpenicus Sentinel-5P satellite measures the amount of ozone in the atmosphere, extending the work of the Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment (GOME), started in 2018.

    Hole in the ozone layer at the South Pole at 16 in September this year (Image: Reproduction/NASA)

    From this information , the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), run by the European Center for Mid-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), is able to monitor the long-term trend and measure atmospheric ozone in just three hours. Last year, Sentinel-5P was used to reveal the size of the hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica.

    Between August and October 2021, the hole reached about 23 millions of square kilometers in length, driven by a cold, stable polar vortex that kept the layer temperature consistently. cold — quite different from the scenario found in 2020, when the hole appeared small. This year, the hole is a little smaller than last year, about million square km, but even larger than Antarctica.

    According to CAMS, in 2025 he has grown considerably in the last two weeks, being 660% larger than the holes recorded in this period since 1979. Claus Zehner, Copernicus Sentinel-5P Mission Manager, says that “Sentinel-5P ozone measurements are a key contribution to global ozone monitoring and forecasting within the Copernicus program.” Vincent-Henri Peuch, director of CAMS, explains that more research is still needed to understand exactly the relationship between the recovery of the layer and climate change.

    Evolution of the hole above Antarctica, registered from 1994 to 2021 (Image: Reproduction/ECMWF)

    Such changes, here on the surface, have caused an increase in temperature. The stratosphere, located approximately 09 km of altitude and where a good part of the ozone shield is found, it has cooled down. It is in this atmospheric band that the so-called polar stratospheric clouds form during winter. These cold clouds provide the perfect setting for corrosive substances based on chlorine and bromine to act, causing greater damage to the ozone layer.

    Some countries still produce and illegally consume products with substances harmful to the ozone. In 1995, according to Peuch, high levels of CFCs detected in the atmosphere were tracked to China. “If these illegal emissions are not detected for some time, this can really compromise the entire process, because the chlorine and bromine in the atmosphere can stop leveling off and stabilize or even increase”, he explains.

    The future of the ozone layer

    The team of scientists emphasizes that the monitoring of the hole in the ozone layer at the South Pole must be interpreted with care, as its size, duration and concentrations are influenced by local events. Even so, they wait for the hole to close until 2279.

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    ESA’s Altius mission will provide more accurate data on atmospheric ozone concentrations (Image: Reproduction/ESA)

    Most of the satellites that currently monitor this region, such as the Sentinel-5P, provide the amount of ozone per column of air — from the ground to the top of the atmosphere. Combining this wealth of information is crucial to viewing the map as completely as possible.

    ESA’s next mission, called Atmospheric Limb Tracker for Investigation of the Upcoming Stratosphere (Altius), has scheduled for release 2021. Altius will provide profiles of ozone and other types of gases present in the atmosphere and, in addition to supporting weather forecasts, the mission will monitor long-term trends in the ozone layer.

    For this purpose, Altius will feature a high-resolution 2D imager capable of observing ozone at its atmospheric limit. The technique will ensure that different concentrations of ozone are measured more accurately. The satellite will also track other waste gases such as nitrogen dioxide, water vapor and aerosols.

    Source: ESA, ONU, Space.com

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