Record-setting Ozone Hole
Antarctica's ozone hole has expanded to cover an
area three times larger than the United States.
8, 2000 -- A NASA spectrometer has detected an Antarctic
ozone "hole" (what scientists call an "ozone depletion
area") that is three times larger than the entire land mass
of the United States - the largest such area ever observed.
The "hole" expanded to a record size of approximately 28.3 million square kilometers on Sept. 3, 2000. The previous record was approximately 27.2 million square km on Sept. 19, 1998.
The ozone hole's size currently has stabilized, but the low levels in its interior continue to fall. The lowest readings in the ozone hole are typically observed in late September or early October each year.
Above: Readers can monitor ozone concentrations for
themselves thanks to near-realtime global maps published at NASA's
Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer
web site. In this map, completed on Sept 6, 2000, the Antarctic
ozone hole is prominent as a purple region surrounding the south
pole. The column density of ozone, expressed in Dobson
Units (DU), above any point on the map is represented by
its color. Dark grey denotes low concentrations and red denotes
high concentrations. [more
information about this image]
Sign up for EXPRESS SCIENCE NEWS delivery
Ozone molecules, made up of three atoms of oxygen, comprise a thin layer of the atmosphere that absorbs harmful ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. Most atmospheric ozone is found between approximately 9.5 km and 29 km above the Earth's surface.
Scientists continuing to investigate this enormous hole are somewhat surprised by its size. The reasons behind the dimensions involve both early-spring conditions in the southern hemisphere, and an extremely intense Antarctic vortex. The Antarctic vortex is an upper-altitude stratospheric air current that sweeps around the Antarctic continent, confining the ozone hole.
Above: This image from the TOMS web site shows how the size and depth of the 2000 Antarctic ozone hole (red line) compare to 1999's (black line) and with the mean values from 1979 to 1992. The maximum hole size observed in 2000 to date is approximately 28 million square kilometers, while in 1999, the maximum was 25 million square kilometers. The grey shaded region indicates the range of values observed during the interval 1979 to 1992, showing a range from nearly 0 to approx 22 million square kilometers. [more information]
"Variations in the size of the ozone hole and of ozone depletion accompanying it from one year to the next are not unexpected," said Dr. Jack Kaye, Office of Earth Sciences Research Director, NASA Headquarters. "At this point we can only wait to see how the ozone hole will evolve in the coming few months and see how the year's hole compares in all respects to those of previous years."
"Discoveries like these demonstrate the value of our long-term commitment to providing key observations to the scientific community," said Dr. Ghassem Asrar, Associate Administrator for NASA's Office of Earth Sciences at Headquarters. "We will soon launch QuickTOMS and Aura, two spacecraft that will continue to gather these important data."
The measurements released today were obtained using the Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS) instrument aboard NASA's Earth Probe (TOMS-EP) satellite. NASA instruments have been measuring Antarctic ozone levels since the early 1970s. Since the discovery of the ozone "hole" in 1985, TOMS has been a key instrument for monitoring ozone levels over the Earth.
TOMS-EP and other ozone-measurement programs are important parts of a global environmental effort of NASA's Earth Science enterprise, a long-term research program designed to study Earth's land, oceans, atmosphere, ice and life as a total integrated system.Web Links
-- data and information about the Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer
(TOMS) instrument aboard NASA's Earth Probe (TOMS-EP) satellite.
Recent Ozone Hole Measurements -- quicktime movies and still images from NASA
Ozone and the Atmosphere -- a tutorial on Earth's present day atmosphere, ozone creation and depletion, and the complex interactions under study by scientists worldwide
Stratospheric Ozone: An Electronic Textbook -- a comprehensive tutorial about the chemistry and dynamics of the ozone layer
Join our growing list of subscribers - sign up for our express news delivery and you will receive a mail message every time we post a new story!!!
|For lesson plans and educational activities related to breaking science news, please visit Thursday's Classroom||
HQ Press Release #00-137
Production Editor: Dr. Tony Phillips
Curator: Bryan Walls
Media Relations: Steve Roy
Responsible NASA official: John M. Horack