The Truth about the Ozone Hole

For a long time now, we have been told about the terrors and consequences of the ozone hole. We are led to believe that the hole is a catastrophic man-made event that is getting worse, and which threatens all life on the planet. What is the real truth, though?

The truth may be even more shocking to people than the original reports of the ozone hole, especially for the private individuals who have worried about it and who possibly spent a great deal of money out of their own pocket, to try to prevent the terrible results of the hole. That truth is that the ozone hole doesn’t exist, and never has.

What is referred to is a thinning of the ozone layer, primarily in the polar regions, and especially in Antarctica. Stressing this point, it is a thinning, it isn’t a ‘hole’. This makes a huge difference, though many people may not at first understand the distinction.

A hole would be a total absence of ozone in a given area, allowing harmful ultraviolet radiation to hit the surface of the earth at full force. This would be devastating. Thinning, though, means that there would be some protection. It wouldn’t be optimum, but it would still be there.

It may be remembered that NASA reported information in support of an ozone hole theory. Early research showed that the thinning was getting worse. However, much of that report has now been corrected by NASA, using satellite and land based data, as well as scientific data. NASA cannot be blamed for initial incorrect data, as they were very not able to measure anything long term, at the time the statements were made.

Since then, NASA and other organizations have been able to study the issue over many years. What they have found is that the ozone layer of our atmosphere, especially over the polar regions, thins on a yearly cycle. If someone starts measuring it early in the cycle, it makes sense that the appearance would be that the ozone is rapidly waning.

The poles are unique in that they get a great deal of sunlight for about a half year, then they get very little sunlight for a half year. Why this is important is that ozone levels fluctuate according to how much sunlight is received. This explains the yearly cycle that was detected, and which NASA is still studying.

Though there is no ozone hole, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a reason for concern. It has been known for some time that cloro-floro-carbons, or CFC’s, have a direct bearing on ozone. Ozone isn’t a stable compound, and CFC’s aid in the break up of ozone. This is because the extra oxygen atom will bond more easily with one of the components of CFC’s than they do to O2, the oxygen molecule. The CFC’s eventually release the oxygen atom, however this leaves the CFC free to capture another oxygen atom.

CFC’s are naturally occurring. However, for many years, man was also using them for various purposes, which increased the amount of CFC’s in the atmosphere. What is often ignored is that CFC’s are heavy, so those produced by man caused the problem to get worse, but only by a small amount. Put more simply, man didn’t have much of a means to get the compound high enough into the atmosphere to interact with the ozone.

There is a natural mechanism that not only produces CFC’s but also has the ability to loft it high into the atmosphere: Volcanic eruptions. It wouldn’t at all be uncalled for to assume that most of the CFC’s in and around the ozone layer got there because of eruptions, rather than by the acts of mankind.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that polluting with CFC’s is wise on the part of man. It isn’t. Man’s impact is just minor, in regard to the ozone layer. It also means that man can’t do a great deal about it. If no more CFC’s were produced, the amount would still increase in cycles still not understood. They also decrease from time to time, apparently in step with volcanic activity, though as previously explained, it takes some time for the CFC’s to work out of the ozone layer.

Several countries have had a ban on the use of CFC’s except for very specific reasons, and it hasn’t appeared to make much difference. Since we don’t fully understand the situation, at present, we can only closely monitor the ozone layer and gather more data. At least we do now know that there is no ozone hole.

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration