It is clear from Antarctic data that the ozone layer is beginning to recover where it was worst affected, though it will take many more decades before it is back to its condition of the 1970s.
The study revealed that the ozone layer has shown no signs of improvement in the last twenty years.
The hole in the protective layer has been closing over Antarctica since ozone-damaging chemicals were banned by the Montreal Protocol, an worldwide treaty, in 1987, but scientists have found that it is thinning in the lower stratosphere above more densely populated parts of the globe. Although the global ban on CFCs has healed the ozone at the poles, it has not been able to heal layer at the lower latitudes. "Thanks to the Montreal Protocol, ozone in the upper stratosphere - i.e. above 30 km - has increased significantly since 1998, and the stratosphere is also recovering above the polar regions", said William Ball, an atmospheric researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich) in Switzerland and the first author of the study.
It is not yet possible to assess the consequences that this continuing lower stratospheric ozone depletion will have for humans and the ecosystem. The effect was worst in the Antarctic, where an ozone "hole" formed.
The research examined the ozone levels between the 60th parallels, an area that ranges from Scandinavia, Russia and Alaska in the north to the tip of South America, The Guardian said. "The decreases in ozone are less than we saw at the poles before the Montreal Protocol was enacted, but UV radiation is more intense in these regions".
Protective ozone layer is recovering but not over populated areas
The reasons for the continuing decline are still unclear.
The other possibility is that very short-lived substances (VSLSs), which contain chlorine and bromine, could be destroying ozone in the lower stratosphere. Climate change has been affecting the atmospheric circulation pattern which carried out ozone from the tropic. VSLSs include chemicals used as solvents, paint strippers, and as degreasing agents. It is a matter of worry as the Montreal protocol no doubt has helped to reduce damage level at the poles but there are other things going on. One of such chemicals is actually used to create a CFC replacement. These chemicals could so far have been "an insufficiently considered factor in the models", said Ball.
It was thought that very short-lived substances would not persist long enough in the atmosphere to reach the height of the stratosphere and affect ozone, but more research may be needed.
The researchers say the focus now should be on getting more precise data on the ozone decline, and determining what the cause most likely is, for example by looking for the presence of VSLSs in the stratosphere.
Dr Ball said: "The study is an example of the concerted global effort to monitor and understand what is happening with the ozone layer; many people and organisations prepared the underlying data, without which the analysis would not have been possible". The study was conducted by 22 scientists at research centres in the U.S. and Europe.
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