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Envisat measures record loss of ozone over Arctic

05. 04. 11

ESA’s Envisat satellite has measured record low levels of ozone over the Euro-Atlantic sector of the northern hemisphere during March.

This record low was caused by unusually strong winds, known as the polar vortex, which isolated the atmospheric mass over the North Pole and prevented it from mixing with air in the mid-latitudes. This led to very low temperatures and created conditions similar to those that occur every southern hemisphere winter over the Antarctic.

As March sunlight hit this cold air mass it released chlorine and bromine atoms – ozone-destroying gases that originate from chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and break ozone down into individual oxygen molecules – predominantly in the lower stratosphere, around 20 km above the surface.

The last unusually low stratospheric temperatures over the North Pole were recorded in 1997, and scientists are currently investigating why the 2011 and 1997 Arctic winters were so cold and whether these random events are statistically linked to global climate change.

"In a changing climate, it is expected that on average stratospheric temperatures cool, which means more chemical ozone depletion will occur," said Mark Weber from the University of Bremen. "On the other hand, many studies show that the stratospheric circulation in the northern hemisphere may be enhanced in the future and, consequently, more ozone will be transported from the tropics into high latitudes and reduce ozone depletion."

Answering this question requires more research on ozone modelling and ozone trend monitoring, which is only possible because of the historic satellite data on record. ESA’s Climate Change Initiative Programme has a project dedicated to this research.

For an overview of the Envisat Mission visit the ESA website.

For teaching resources related to the Ozone, visit the eLibrary.

This news item first appeared on the ESA website.

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