Hole in ozone threatens UK

Worst damage ever is recorded this week

NICHOLAS SCHOON

The ozone layer over Britain has suffered the worst damage ever recorded, due to a combination of pollution and intense cold at high altitude.

The measurements, at Lerwick in Shetland and Camborne in Cornwall, surprised and alarmed scientists. They had forecast that the ozone should be on the verge of starting a recovery after decades of deterioration, thanks to international treaties curbing emissions of the industrial gases and solvents which destroy it.

The ozone layer absorbs much of the harmful ultraviolet B radiation in the suns rays. High levels of these UVB rays can cause skin cancer and cataracts in humans, and can affect the environment, including crops, wild plants and sea plankton.

On Tuesday the Met Office ozone recording station at Lerwick, one of only two in the country, recorded 195 Dobson Units - a measure of the total quantity of ozone in the atmosphere immediately above. It was the first time there had been a reading below 200 in Britain. The same low levels were recorded as far away as Cornwall, where the measure was 206 Dobson Units. That was the lowest level recorded there since it was set up 17 years ago.

At Lerwick, this February's readings have, overall, been well below the month's long term average - but they have been especially low in the past 10 days, reaching a peak with Tuesday's record.

Dr Joe Farman, the British Antarctic Survey scientist who first discovered the ozone hole over the South Pole, said: ``This is certainly significant, and shows the problems haven't gone away.

``We've warned that things would get worse before they start to get better, but it's impossible to make any precise predictions. With the very cold winters we have been getting at high altitude, the ozone loss could well accelerate.''

Ozone is a gas found at very low concentrations in air. It absorbs UVB in the stratosphere - the upper atmosphere above 35,000 feet - and its concentration there fluctuates with changing weather patterns and season.

But there has been a gradual, global decline in this high level ozone for several decades, thanks to the rapidly growing use of chemicals containing chlorine and bromine used in refrigeration, air conditioning and dry cleaning. These CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and other compounds escape slowly into the stratosphere.

The first severe and rapid ozone destruction was detected above the Antarctic in the mid-1980s. Each Spring in the southern hemisphere an "ozone hole" opens up there - a continent-sized patch of stratosphere in which half or more of the ozone has been lost.

This is caused by a complex cycle of chemical reactions, driven by sunlight, which take place on the surface of high altitude ice clouds.

Scientists have been debating whether similar ozone holes could open up over the Arctic, covering populated regions in northern Europe, Russia, Alaska and Canada.

They have monitored substantial ozone losses in recent northern hemisphere Springs. Last year's was among the worst ever.

Dr Farman said the ozone destruction taking place this Spring over the northern hemisphere could be worse still. ``We have to get it through to the politicians that we have not yet cleaned up this stuff,'' he said.

Man-made global warming, caused by a build-up of heat trapping gases, appears to be exacerbating the ozone loss. While temperatures rise in the lower atmosphere, those in the stratosphere drop. This makes sustained ozone destruction more likely, because it helps the formation of the high level ice clouds and allows them to exist for longer.

Since 1987, a series of international negotiations have imposed tighter controls on the production of ozone-destroying chemicals.

The latest agreement, under this Montreal Protocol treaty, took place in Vienna last December. But environmental organisations like Greenpeace and atmospheric scientists like Dr Farman say the rate of progress is still too slow.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
i100
News
Budapest, 1989. Sleepware and panties.
newsDavid Hlynsky's images of Soviet Union shop windows shine a light on our consumerist culture
News
In humans, the ability to regulate the expression of genes through thoughts alone could open up an entirely new avenue for medicine.
science
News
Williams says: 'The reason I got jobs was because they would blow the budget on the big guys - but they only had to pay me the price of a cup of tea'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Associate - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL FIRM - A...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Law Costs - London City

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - EXCELLENT FIRM - We have an outstandin...

Austen Lloyd: In-House Solicitor / Company Secretary - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: IN-HOUSE - NATIONAL CHARITY - An exciting and...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee