Ozone levels above the Arctic reached a record low in March

The purple and blue colors are where there is the least ozone, and the yellows and reds are where there is more ozone. (Credit: NASA via Global Korean Post)

 

Ozone levels above the Arctic reached a record low in March

 

April. 17, 2020

Global Korean Post

 

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on Wednesday, April 22, 2020.

 

According to NASA researchers reports, an analysis of satellite observations show that ozone levels reached their lowest point on March 12 at 205 Dobson units.

 

While such low levels are rare, they are not unprecedented. Similar low ozone levels occurred in the upper atmosphere, or stratosphere, in 1997 and 2011. In comparison, the lowest March ozone value observed in the Arctic is usually around 240 Dobson units.

 

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

 

Ozone is a highly reactive molecule comprised of three oxygen atoms that occurs naturally in small amounts. The stratospheric ozone layer, roughly 7 to 25 miles above Earth’s surface, is a sunscreen, absorbing harmful ultraviolet radiation that can damage plants and animals and affecting people by causing cataracts, skin cancer and suppressed immune systems.

 

The March Arctic ozone depletion was caused by a combination of factors that arose due to unusually weak upper atmospheric “wave” events from December through March. These waves drive movements of air through the upper atmosphere akin to weather systems that we experience in the lower atmosphere, but much bigger in scale.

 

In a typical year, these waves travel upward from the mid-latitude lower atmosphere to disrupt the circumpolar winds that swirl around the Arctic. When they disrupt the polar winds, they do two things. First, they bring with them ozone from other parts of the stratosphere, replenishing the reservoir over the Arctic.

 

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