U of T Physicist Part of NASA-Led Study that Finds Unprecedented Arctic Ozone Loss Last Winter

Wednesday, January 4, 2012 1:00:00 PM

Research and Publications News



NEW ARTICLE: Manney, G.L. et al. 2011. Unprecedented Arctic ozone loss in 2011. Nature. doi:10.1038/nature10556 (Forthcoming; published online 02 October 2011)

Available online at http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature10556.html

University of Toronto physicist Professor Kaley Walker was part of an international team in a NASA-led study which has documented an unprecedented depletion of the Earth's protective ozone layer above the Arctic last winter and spring that was caused by an unusually prolonged period of extremely low temperatures in the stratosphere. The paper was published online October 2, 2011 in Nature.

The researchers found the amount of ozone destroyed in the Arctic in 2011 was comparable to that seen in some years in the Antarctic, where an ozone "hole" has formed each spring since the mid-1980s. The stratospheric ozone layer, extending from about 15 to 35 kilometres above the surface, protects life on Earth from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays.

The scientists found that at some altitudes, the cold period in the Arctic lasted more than 30 days longer in 2011 than in any previously studied Arctic winter, leading to the unprecedented ozone loss. Further studies are needed to determine what factors caused the cold period to last so long.

The Antarctic ozone hole forms when extremely cold conditions, common in the winter Antarctic stratosphere, trigger reactions that convert atmospheric chlorine from human-produced chemicals into forms that destroy ozone. While the same ozone-loss processes occur each winter in the Arctic, the generally warmer stratospheric conditions there limit the area affected and the time frame during which the chemical reactions occur. This means there is generally far less ozone loss in most years in the Arctic than in the Antarctic.

To investigate the 2011 Arctic ozone loss, Walker and scientists from 18 other institutions in nine countries (United States, Germany, The Netherlands, Russia, Finland, Denmark, Japan and Spain) analyzed a comprehensive set of measurements. These included daily global observations of trace gases and clouds from NASA's Aura and CALIPSO spacecraft; ozone measured by instrumented balloons; meteorological data and atmospheric models. The University of Toronto team contributed to the balloon-borne data with measurements from Eureka, Nunavut, located at 80 ºN (1,100 km from the North Pole). The team was participating in a Canadian Space Agency-funded project making springtime measurements to verify the performance of a Canadian satellite called the Atmospheric Chemistry Experiment (ACE).

The scientists noted that without the 1989 Montreal Protocol, an international treaty limiting production of ozone-depleting substances, chlorine levels already would be so high that an Arctic ozone hole would form every spring. The long atmospheric lifetimes of ozone-depleting chemicals already in the atmosphere mean that Antarctic ozone holes, and the possibility of future severe Arctic ozone loss, will continue for decades.

This is an edited excerpt of an article found at www.artsci.utoronto.ca.

For more information on atmospheric physics research in the Department of Physics:  http://www.atmosp.physics.utoronto.ca/research.html