(TMU) — As global headlines continue to be inundated by a glut of tragic and maddening stories about the coronavirus pandemic’s grim march across the globe, some very good news has seemingly slipped through the cracks: Earth’s ozone layer is healing, and scientists are making note of a major recovery thanks to international cooperation.
In fact, the progress made in reducing ozone-depleting chemicals and emissions may be proof that humans can not only disrupt and harm the environment but can also heal the damage caused by human economic activities if the political will exists, scientists say.
The ozone layer is the layer in the Earth’s stratosphere that is responsible for absorbing the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the Sun, effectively filtering out radiation that causes skin cancer among humans, destroys crops, and disrupts marine ecosystems among other devastating effects on the planet.
The ozone layer faced decades of degradation thanks to the use of harmful chemical compounds such as chlorofluorocarbons, halons, hydrochlorofluorocarbons, and other organic and synthetic (human-made) ozone-depleting compounds that are commonly used in refrigerators, aerosols, and a range of industrial processes.
The damage to the ozone layer was such that a “hole” above the south pole opened up, causing the southern jet stream—the powerful wind that determines the southern hemisphere’s weather patterns and ocean currents, especially in the summer—to begin shifting southwards toward the Antarctic, affecting storms and rainfall over South America, East Africa, and Australia.
The startling decline of the ozone layer became such a sharp matter of concern that in 1987, governments agreed to the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty meant to phase out the production and use of ozone-depleting chemicals.
A new study published in the journal Nature claims that the global agreement helped address and roll back the damage to the ozone in a “profound” manner.
Study lead author Antara Banerjee, a CIRES Visiting Fellow at the University of Colorado Boulder who works in the Chemical Sciences Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said:
“This study adds to growing evidence showing the profound effectiveness of the Montreal Protocol. Not only has the treaty spurred healing of the ozone layer, it’s also driving recent changes in Southern Hemisphere air circulation patterns.
…The challenge in this study was proving our hypothesis that ozone recovery is in fact driving these atmospheric circulation changes and it isn’t just a coincidence.”
While the benefits to the ozone layer have been great, the scientists warn that complacency about other human-caused emissions, as well as human-caused climate change, could undo any positive gains.
Indeed, southern hemispheric weather patterns and the global climate in general still face further human-caused distortion due to continued industrial emissions, including carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane, Banerjee noted. She told the Guardian:
“There is a tug of war between ozone recovery and increasing CO2. That’s why we are seeing a pause. In the near future, the ozone factor could dominate and the jet stream will move back towards equator. But once the recovery is complete, CO2 could push it southwards again.”
Alexey Karpechko, who helped review the study and works for Finnish Meteorological Institute, remarked:
“This is good news, definitely. It shows our actions can stop climate change.
We can see coordinated action works. It is a strong message to us as emitters of greenhouse gases. This shows we can manipulate the climate both ways: in a wrong way and by reversing the damage we have done.”
As the pollution drastically falls over developed countries in Europe and industrial powerhouses like China due to the coronavirus lockdowns, one wonders if world leaders can or will take notice of the fact that the solution to environmental degradation and climate-disrupting pollution remains in their hands.