The Antarctic ozone hole reached its annual peak size on Sept. 11, according to scientists from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The size of this year’s hole was 24.1 million square kilometers (9.3 million square miles) — an area roughly the size of North America.
With the increased atmospheric chlorine levels present since the 1980s, the Antarctic ozone hole forms and expands during the Southern Hemisphere spring (August and September). The ozone layer helps shield life on Earth from potentially harmful ultraviolet radiation that can cause skin cancer and damage plants.
The Montreal Protocol agreement beginning in 1987 regulated ozone depleting substances, such as chlorine-containing chlorofluorocarbons and bromine-containing halons. The 2014 level of these substances over Antarctica has declined about 9 percent below the record maximum in 2000.
“Year-to-year weather variability significantly impacts Antarctica ozone because warmer stratospheric temperatures can reduce ozone depletion,” said Paul A. Newman, chief scientist for atmospheres at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Scientists are working to determine if the ozone hole trend over the last decade is a result of temperature increases or chorine declines. An increase of stratospheric temperature over Antarctica would decrease the ozone hole’s area.