2004 solomon the HOLE truth

2004 solomon the HOLE truth - commentary The hole truth...

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Susan Solomon The discovery in 1985 of an unprecedented ‘hole’ in Antarctica’s ozone layer heralded the beginning of one of the most influential environmental stories of the late twentieth century 1 .The tale of the missing ozone at the bottom of the world was made all the more intriguing by its strong seasonal behaviour. Ozone levels decline rapidly each year in August and September (Antarctic spring), and the hole is typically at its deepest by late September to early October. It then largely fills in through mixing of surrounding ozone-rich air by late January, ready for the next year’s cycle. Each Antarctic spring in the late 1980s and early 1990s, enthusiastic scientists shared the news about the hole with a fasci- nated and equally enthusiastic public. Slowly, the mystery surrounding events in the Great White South evolved into under- standing for both groups 2 .The root cause of the hole was identified as a number of indus- trially produced chemicals. Policy-makers worldwide quickly agreed on the Montreal Protocol to phase out these chemicals,and by the late 1990s global production of these gases had dropped by more than 90% (see ‘How can we tell if the Montreal Protocol is working?’, overleaf). Like many scientists involved in this sea-change in scientific and public knowledge, I have been heartened by widespread interest in the issues, and encouraged by the ability of even school- children to understand the key elements of the story. The ozone hole has been considered by many to be the success story of global envi- ronmental policy ever since the Montreal Protocol came into force. But in the past few years I have grown concerned about a public that seems to be more confused than intrigued by the news reports that greet the appearance of the hole each year.Despite the apparent success of the Montreal Protocol, the elimination of the ozone hole may seem to progress at a remarkably uneven rate.And as the hole changes in size and shape (Fig. 1, overleaf),communicating to the public what this means has become much harder. I feel that this presents the scientific com- munity with a new challenge. Given that global production of ozone-damaging com- pounds is now nearing zero,yet ozone deple- tion will continue for many years to come, how can scientists help to preserve the remarkable success in public understanding of the ozone hole? How can we best explain why this is so in language understandable to students, teachers, scientific colleagues in other fields — indeed to everyone who shares our interest in a phenomenon that is not just scientific but also historic, not just technical but also sociological? How do we distinguish between what is news and what is not as the ozone hole moves into an expected period of very slow recovery? Are there any observable connections between the behaviour of the ozone hole and whether or not the Montreal Protocol is working? If not, how can we tell if the protocol is on or
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This note was uploaded on 07/17/2008 for the course CHEM 641 taught by Professor Allen during the Winter '08 term at Ohio State.

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2004 solomon the HOLE truth - commentary The hole truth...

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