In the 1980’s, scientists discovered a hole in the ozone layer above the Arctic Circle at the North Pole. The discovery definitely got the public’s attention, since the ozone layer protects the planet from ultraviolet radiation.
The hole itself was quickly determined to be caused by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were used as propellants in many aerosol products. In a swift feat of collective human action, CFCs were banned in the global Montreal Protocol in 1987.
Soon, consumers saw hairspray dropping off store shelves, replaced by pump-type sprays. New, non-CFC propellants eventually were discovered and employed in aerosol cans, and we are now seeing the remarkable effects of our quick thinking. A problem that could have been a global disaster may have been averted thanks to the work of scientists and the cooperative action by world leaders to save the planet.
How CFCs Created A Hole
When the ozone hole was discovered, a large concentration of chlorine was noted in the Arctic atmosphere.
Scientists determined that chlorine played a large role in ozone loss, as it catalyzed the rapid destruction of ozone. Chlorine is chemically present in CFCs, and after much study, a causal connection was made between aerosols and the growing ozone hole. It was determined that the sun’s radiation breaks it down CFCs into the ozone-eating chlorine in the atmosphere.
Closing The Gap
Over 30 years, it looks like the global ban on CFC propellants actually worked. Recent measurements from NASA’s Aurora satellite show that the ozone hole has shrunk, and is its smallest since 1988.
It is a milestone that provides much support for the scientific findings of the 1980s, but scientists caution that we are still years away from completely healing the layer.
CFCs can remain stable in the lower atmosphere for decades. So even though they are not being used in hairspray, the danger of ozone depletion is still present. Right now, the ozone hole is about two times the size of the United States, but scientists believe that if we stay on track, the hole can be minimized to near insignificance by 2060 or 2080.