What is ozone?
Ozone is a naturally occurring molecule. An ozone molecule is made up of three oxygen atoms. It has the chemical formula O3.
What is the ozone layer?
The ozone layer is the common term for the high concentration of ozone that is found in the stratosphere around 15–30km above the earth’s surface. It covers the entire planet and protects life on earth by absorbing harmful ultraviolet-B (UV-B) radiation from the sun.
Why is UV-B radiation bad?
Prolonged exposure to UV-B radiation is linked to skin cancer, genetic damage and immune system suppression in humans and animals, and lower yielding agricultural crops.
What is the ozone hole?
Chemicals containing chlorine and bromine atoms are released to the atmosphere through human activities. These chemicals combine with certain weather conditions to cause reactions in the ozone layer, leading to ozone molecules being destroyed. Depletion of the ozone layer occurs globally, however, the severe depletion of the ozone layer over the Antarctic is often referred to as the 'ozone hole'. Increased depletion has recently started occurring over the Arctic as well.
When was the problem discovered?
In 1974, chemists Mario Molina and Frank Sherwood Rowland discovered a link between chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and the breakdown of ozone in the stratosphere. In 1985, geophysicist Joe Farman, along with meteorologists Brian G Gardiner and Jon Shanklin published findings of abnormally low ozone concentrations above the Antarctic.
Will things improve?
The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer came into effect in 1987. It sets binding obligations for countries to phase out production of all the major ozone depleting substances. Data shows that stratospheric concentrations of ozone depleting substances are declining. As a result of international action, the ozone layer is expected to recover to pre-1980 levels over the mid-latitudes by 2050 and over the polar regions by 2065.
- 1974: Chemists in the USA discover the link between CFCs and the breakdown of ozone in the stratosphere
- 1985: British scientists publish results of abnormally low ozone concentrations above the Antarctic
- 1985: Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer agreed
- 1987: Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer agreed
- 1989: Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act commenced in Australia
- 1991: Phase out of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) begins
- 1996: Phase out of HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons) begins