BY JIM SCANLON
An Arctic Ozone Hole developed over densely-populated areas of Northern Europe and Western Siberia from mid-January through March this year, with stratospheric ozone levels falling to levels previously measured only during the Springtime Ozone Hole in Antarctica.
As this article goes to press, there has been no detailed coverage of this subject by the media despite a lengthy, but subdued, statement posted on the Internet by the World Meteorological Organization and a more detailed news article published in New Scientist which was summarized and posted on the Internet Newsgroup Science Environment. Neither has there been any statement from NASA or NOAA, U.S. agencies responsible for scientific satellite observations.
The WMO's statement dated March 12, 1995, "Stronger Ozone Decline Continues," announced that the record low ozone values registered in 1995 over Siberia [northern hemisphere] intensified at the end of winter 1996, from mid-January through mid-March. The sub-caption read: "Depleted area covers Greenland, North Atlantic, Scandinavia and the western part of the Russian Arctic." Deficiencies of from 20 to 30 percent were recorded for a two-month period, with measurements approaching those in the Ozone Hole at the opposite end of the earth—"below 250 m atm cm" (this corresponds to Dobson Units or Ozone Units). Below 220 units is considered to be within an "ozone hole."
On March 13, the Coastal Post posted the WMO announcement with the comment that the new Arctic phenomena could be considered worse than the Antarctic because it covered a densely-populated area. The Post asked for any reports of European press coverage.
On March 15, 1996 Hugh Easton, a highly-respected British scientist, released a summary of an article from the British Weekly, New Scientist dated March 16, 1996, which provided information dramatically different from the WMO release—which did not even mention the British Isles as being affected.
The Norwegian Institute for Atmospheric Research was quoted as reporting Arctic ozone losses of 40 percent whereas over Britain the losses were reported close to 50 percent.
Increasingly cold stratospheric temperatures over the Arctic this year resulted in the formation of clouds which enhance the destruction of ozone. These are Polar Stratospheric Clouds, more common over Antarctica. The cold, plus increased amounts of water vapor from methane, in the normally dry stratosphere, are thought to have contributed to the vastly increased destruction of ozone.
The colder temperatures in the Arctic are thought to be related to the retention of heat in the lower atmosphere ("global warming"). The natural production of methane is enhanced by a variety of human activities, including burning grasslands and forests, garbage dumps, belching from cattle and other ruminants, bacteria in guts of termites (forest destruction), bacteria in rice paddies, natural gas leaks, etc. Separate and distinct human activities seem to have combined to produce an extremely rapid change in the nature sunlight reaching the surface of the springtime northern hemisphere.
Prior to 1990 the northern springtime ozone loss amounted to only three percent. There was no explanation as to why the loss became 15 times worse in six years, while the rate of increase in CFCs and methane has started to slacken.
The first dramatic observations of ozone loss in Antarctica were made ten years ago and that loss has steadily worsened. Last year the Ozone Hole there started earlier, reached record area and volume, and lasted longer than ever. It regularly passes over populated areas and is responsible for lower ozone amounts throughout the entire Southern Hemisphere.
What makes the Arctic Ozone Hole so much more worrisome is the presence of millions of people in the latitudes affected.
The WMO's statement limited the highly-populated area covered to Iceland and Scandinavia. The New Scientist report additionally included England, (and by implication) Northern France, the Low Countries, Germany, Poland, and European Russia—thus affecting and threatening an enormous population. Comparable latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere would contain a few hundred thousand people.
The WMO is holding a meeting in Geneva from March 12-21: The Third Meeting of Ozone Research Managers of the countries which signed the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer (The Montreal Protocol). They will obviously have a lot to talk about.
So far the international media has not reported on the importance of the latest Ozone Hole, nor has it reported on the meeting of the Ozone Managers.
Unlike the South American population affected so far, the European population covered is highly educated with a large proportion of the world's scientists. There are major scientific institutions with the human and financial resources to resolve the long-simmering controversy over how much ultraviolet radiation increases—and what this means—as stratospheric ozone decreases.
We shall see if the Europeans are as frightened of "alarming the people" as their South American counterparts are. Of course, there is the possibility that the fear of ozone depletion, which resulted in billions of dollars in profits for the military industrial scientific complex, has been overrated. Either way it goes, we are in deep trouble.