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Record-breaking Arctic ozone hole has closed, scientists find

CAMS researchers say the coronavirus pandemic is likely not the reason for the ozone hole healing.
Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

The largest-ever recorded ozone hole formed earlier this month over the Arctic.

Now, scientists say it finally closed. 

The Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service (CAMS) had monitored this hole since early April and announced the hole's closure last week. Scientists with the European Space Agency said the hole covered an area about three times the size of Greenland, according to CBS.

But researchers say the coronavirus lockdowns "probably had nothing to do with this."

While COVID-19 lockdowns have led to a significant reduction in air pollution around the world, CAMS researchers have a different reason for why the ozone hold closed.

"It's been driven by an unusually strong and long-lived polar vortex, and isn't related to air quality changes," CAMS tweeted Sunday.

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When the polar vortex split, it allowed ozone-rich air into the Arctic, CAMS said. 

NASA data shows Arctic ozone levels had reached record lows in March with the lowest point on March 12 at 205 Dobson units; 1997 and 2011 are the only other years that saw similar depletions in the Arctic.

"This year's low Arctic ozone happens about once per decade," Paul Newman, chief scientist for Earth Sciences at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said. "For the overall health of the ozone layer, this is concerning since Arctic ozone levels are typically high during March and April."

Going back to science class, ozone acts as a sunscreen for the Earth, absorbing harmful radiation from the sun. That ultraviolet radiation can hurt living beings and cause skin cancer, suppressed immune systems and cataracts in humans.

Human-made chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons destroy the ozone layer and even caused the famous hole to form in the 1980s in Antarctica. For the most recent hole, researchers found "unusual atmospheric conditions" led industrial chemicals to interact with high clouds at low temperatures, CBS said.

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