Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion: 1994

Common Questions About Ozone

1994 Ozone Assessment cover

8. How Severe Is the Ozone Depletion Now, and Is It Expected to Get Worse?

Scientific evidence shows that ozone depletion caused by human-made chemicals is continuing and is expected to persist until chlorine and bromine levels are reduced. Worldwide monitoring has shown that stratospheric ozone has been decreasing for the past two decades or more. Globally averaged losses have totaled about 5% since the mid-1960s, with cumulative losses of about 10% in the winter and spring and 5% in the summer and autumn over locations such as Europe, North America, and Australia. Since the late-1970s, an ozone "hole" has formed in Antarctica each Southern Hemisphere spring (September / October), in which up to 60% of the total ozone is depleted. The large increase in atmospheric concentrations of human-made chlorine and bromine compounds is responsible for the formation of the Antarctic ozone hole, and the weight of evidence indicates that it also plays a major role in midlatitude ozone depletion.

During 1992 and 1993 ozone in many locations dropped to record low values: springtime depletions exceeded 20% in some populated northern midlatitude regions, and the levels in the Antarctic ozone hole fell to the lowest values ever recorded. The unusually large ozone decreases of 1992 and 1993 are believed to be related, in part, to the volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines during 1991. This eruption produced large amounts of stratospheric sulfate aerosols that temporarily increased the ozone depletion caused by human-made chlorine and bromine compounds. Recent observations have shown that as those aerosols have been swept out of the stratosphere, ozone concentrations have returned to the depleted levels consistent with the downward trend observed before the Mount Pinatubo eruption.

In 1987 the recognition of the potential for chlorine and bromine to destroy stratospheric ozone led to an international agreement (The United Nations Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer) to reduce the global production of ozone-depleting substances. Since then, new global observations of significant ozone depletion have prompted amendments to strengthen the treaty. The 1992 Copenhagen Amendments call for a ban on production of the most damaging compounds by 1996. The figure shows past and projected future stratospheric abundances of chlorine and bromine: (a) without the Protocol; (b) under the Protocol's original provisions; and (c) under the Copenhagen Amendments now in force. Without the Montreal Protocol and its Amendments, continuing human use of CFCs and other compounds would have tripled the stratospheric abundances of chlorine and bromine by about the year 2050. Current scientific understanding indicates that such increases would have led to global ozone depletion very much larger than observed today. In contrast, under current international agreements, which are now reducing and will eventually eliminate human emissions of ozone-depleting gases, the stratospheric abundances of chlorine and bromine are expected to reach their maximum within a few years and then slowly decline. All other things being equal, the ozone layer is expected to return to normal by the middle of the next century.

In summary, record low ozone levels have been observed in recent years, and substantially larger future global depletions in ozone would have been highly likely without reductions in human emissions of ozone-depleting gases. However, worldwide compliance with current international agreements is rapidly reducing the yearly emissions of these compounds. As these emissions cease, the ozone layer will gradually improve over the next several decades. The recovery of the ozone layer will be gradual because of the long times required for CFCs to be removed from the atmosphere.

Chlorine/bromine abundance projections