While most of us continue to scratch our heads about what to do regarding climate change, scientists are throwing another log on the proverbial fire claiming that the gaping hole in our planet’s ozone layer is healing itself.
In a new study—published on Thursday in the journal Science—the ozone hole above the South Pole is actually getting smaller. In fact, scientists say that it may have already shrunk by more than 1.5 million square miles, since its growth peaked in 2000.
That is roughly half the land mass area of the contiguous United States.
In the paper, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Susan Solomon comments, “We can now be confident that the things we’ve done have put the planet on a path to heal.”
In excited response to the phenomenon, the lead study author also goes on to say, “Aren’t we amazing humans, that we did something that created a situation that we decided collectively, as a world, ‘Let’s get rid of these molecules’? We got rid of them, and now we’re seeing the planet respond.”
Of course, this means that the ozone is healing—at least for now—and if we can maintain this tract scientists estimate the ozone hole could be completely repaired by the middle of this century. At the same time, though, volcanic activity and other factors like temperature changes and wind speeds can contribute to loss of ozone, so the timeline could very well shift over the next few decades.
Study co-author Ryan Neely, of the University of Leeds, comments, “It all works in combination with the CFCs.” That is short for chlorofluorocarbons. Neely continues, “So the hole could close as early as 2040 maybe, as late as 2070. There are a lot of factors that go into it.”
He refers, of course, to the Montreal Protocol. Signed by nearly every country in the world, in 1987, the Montreal Protocol was a global agreement to ban the use of CFCs in manufacturing as part of a major, intentional effort to repair the degrading ozone layer. And the ozone layer, of course, shields all life on the planet Earth from the harmful ultraviolet rays dispersed by the sun, rays which have been linked to skin cancer in many studies.
Solomon also expresses that this is personally exciting because it validates more than three decades of research. She says, “Science was helpful in showing the path, diplomats and countries and industry were incredibly able in charting a pathway out of these molecules, and now we’ve actually seen the planet starting to get better. It’s a wonderful thing.”