Usually, when we read the news that has anything to do with the environment, it’s negative. CO2 levels are on the rise, wildlife is dying in massive bushfires in Australia, human activity is destroying biodiversity… the list is seemingly endless.
Finally, however, we may have something to cheer about. According to researchers, the ozone layer above Antarctica has recovered significantly. So much so, that many of the troublesome changes that have been recorded over the last several decades have actually been stopped [1,2].
Positive Trends in Southern Hemisphere Circulation
Several decades ago, scientists began noticing some problematic changes in jet stream circulation in the southern hemisphere.
A jet stream is a narrow band of strong wind in the upper levels of the atmosphere. The wind blows from west to east, but the flow shifts to the north and south, following the boundaries between hot and cold air .
Jet streams separate warmer and colder air, so they play a key role in determining the weather. They push air masses around, and they move weather systems to new areas. Climatologists say that jet streams, particularly the polar jet streams, are closely tied to global warming .
Prior to the year 2000, depletion of the earth’s ozone layer had been driving the southern jet stream further south than usual, changing rainfall patterns and ocean currents. It appears, however, that this migration has stopped, and may have even reversed .
The Montreal Protocol
The protocol is officially known as “The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer”. It was an agreement to limit the production and consumption of man-made chemicals called ozone-depleting substances (ODS), which damage the earth’s ozone layer .
The protocol was adopted on September 15, 1987, and is the only UN agreement treaty in history that has been ratified by every country on earth .
According to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), since they began tracking it in 1982, the Antarctic ozone hole hit its smallest annual peak on record last October. They caution that we have not completely solved the problem yet, but our efforts to reduce ODS have helped .
Why is the Ozone Layer so Important?
Ozone is incredibly important to life on Earth. Most ozone is found in the stratosphere, which is ten to forty kilometers above us. It acts as a protective shield that blocks us from the sun’s harmful radiation .
When this shield weakens, we become more susceptible to cancer, cataracts, impaired immune systems .
How is the Ozone Connected to Jet Streams, and Why are they Important?
Antarctic ozone depletion is the primary culprit for the shifting jet stream in the southern hemisphere. Research from Pennsylvania State University found that this ozone loss contributes fifty percent more to jet stream changes than greenhouse gasses .
Jet stream changes have a significant impact on our weather patterns. For example, Australia has been experiencing an increase in drought because the jet stream has been pushing rain away from coastal areas.
Ian Rae, an organic chemist from the University of Melbourne, says that the recovering ozone is great news for Australia.
“The ‘weather bands’ that bring our cold fronts have been narrowing towards the south pole, and that’s why southern Australia has experienced decreasing rainfall over the last thirty years or so,” he said. “If the ozone layer is recovering, and the circulation is moving north, that’s good news on two fronts (pun not intended).” 
CO2 Levels are a Threat to Progress
Many scientists are cautious to start celebrating just yet, since rising CO2 levels could negate whatever progress has already been made. Industrial regions in China have also caused a surge in ODS in recent years, which is problematic.
Atmospheric chemist Antara Banerjee from the University of Colorado Boulder says they are calling this change a “pause”, because the circulation trends could continue the way they’re going, stay the same, or reverse.
“It’s the tug of war between the opposing effects of ozone recovery and rising greenhouse gases that will determine future trends,” she says .
One positive we can take from this, however, is that the success of the Montreal Protocol demonstrates that if we take real and immediate action at a global level, we do have the power to reverse some of the damage we have done to our environment.
Keep Reading: What Might Happen If The Earth’s Magnetic Poles Flip
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