Ozone Hole Probably Makes Our Planet Slightly Warmer -
Scientists Say

10 August, 2013

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Follow us: - A new computer-modeling study suggests that the ozone hole might actually have a slight warming influence, but because of its effect on winds, not temperatures.

"We were surprised this effect happened just by shifting the jet stream and the clouds," said lead author Kevin Grise, a climate scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in New York City.

The new research suggests that shifting wind patterns caused by the ozone hole push clouds farther toward the South Pole, reducing the amount of radiation the clouds reflect and possibly causing a bit of warming rather than cooling.

A map of ozone concentrations in the Southern Hemisphere shows thinning of the ozone layer over the South Pole. This region of reduced ozone, which is called the “ozone hole,” causes changes in wind patterns and cloud cover. Image credit: NASA

Each ozone molecule consists of three oxygen atoms bound together. These ozone molecules gather in the lower portion of the stratosphere about 20 to 30 kilometers (12 to 19 miles) above the ground -- about twice as high as commercial airliners fly.

However, for the living things below, this layer of ozone shields Earth from some of the hazardous ultraviolet radiation that can cause sunburns, eye damage and even skin cancer.

In the 1980s, scientists discovered thinning of the ozone layer above Antarctica during the Southern Hemisphere's spring months.

The cause of this "hole" turned out to be chlorofluorocarbons, such as Freon, from cooling systems, aerosols cans and degreasing solvents, which break apart ozone molecules. Even though the1987 Montreal Protocol banned these chlorofluorocarbons worldwide, the ozone hole persists decades later.

In a 2010 Yale University poll, 61 percent of those surveyed believed the ozone hole significantly contributed to global warming. Additionally, 43 percent agreed with the statement "if we stopped punching holes in the ozone layer with rockets, it would reduce global warming."

An actual consequence of the ozone hole is its odd effect on the Southern Hemisphere polar jet stream, the fast flowing air currents encircling the South Pole.


Despite the ozone hole only appearing during the spring months, throughout each subsequent summer the high-speed jet stream swings south toward the pole.

"For some reason when you put an ozone hole in the Southern Hemisphere during springtime, you get this robust poleward shift in the jet stream during the following summer season," said Grise.

"People have been looking at this for 10 years and there's still no real answer of why this happens."

Scientists wondered if the ozone hole's impacts on the jet stream would have any indirect effects on the cloud cover. Using computer models, they worked out how the clouds would react to changing winds.

"Because the jet stream shifts, the storm systems move along with it toward the pole," said Grise.

"If the storm systems move, the cloud system is going to move with it."

The team discovered that high- and mid-level clouds traveled with the shifting jet stream toward the South Pole and the Antarctic continent.

Low-level cloud coverage dropped in their models throughout the Southern Ocean.

Modeling clouds is a difficult task for scientists but finally their theory of migrating cloud coverage is supported by observational evidence from the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project, a decades-long NASA effort to map global cloud distributions.

Additionally, this small warming effect may be important for climatologists trying to predict the future of Southern Hemisphere climate.


See also:
Will The Ozone Hole Over Antarctica Permanently Repair Itself?

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