Second Ozone Hole May Develop Over Northern Europe

BRUSSELS, Belgium, January 24, 2000 (ENS) - The ozone layer over northern Europe and the Arctic has been getting thinner, allowing ultraviolet radiation to reach the Earth in the same way as the better known ozone hole over the South Pole.

In fact, the ozone level over Europe is now about six percent lower than it was 20 years ago. Losses of up to 50 percent per year have been observed during the winters of the 1990s.

To find out more about the extent of the problem, Philippe Busquin, European Union (EU) research commissioner has launched a scientific campaign in Kiruna, located in Sweden's north polar circle.


European Union Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin of Belgium is a physicist with postgraduate training in environmental studies (Photo courtesy )
Scientists all over the world are trying to find the reasons for these extremely low ozone concentrations. "The European Union has pooled resources with the United States, Japan, Russia, Norway, Poland and Switzerland in the biggest field campaign ever, the Theseo 2000/Solve experiment," Busquin said Friday.

To gather data about exact state of the ozone depletion, four airplanes - two European, two American - and more than 20 balloons will be flown in the coming weeks to measure the ozone content in the critical stratospheric zone 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) above the Earth. The results of the campaign will be known in March.

At the end of November 1999, the European Space Organisation's satellite ERS-2 detected abnormally low ozone values over the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, Northern Germany, Denmark and the Baltic as well as over the entire Arctic.

Over the last 10 years cold winters have coincided with maximum ozone depletion, and scientists now understand the chemical processes in the stratosphere that cause the phenomenon. Measuring campaigns like the one in Kiruna are necessary to predict fututre developments and give a sound basis to political decisions, Busquin said.

Ozone in the upper atmosphere absorbs ultraviolet radiation, especially ultraviolet B, which damages the genetic heritage of a number of life forms, including humans. A relatively small increase of ultraviolet radiation can cause skin cancer and other forms of skin disease.

Busquin said, "The main thrust of research in Europe was to focus on what is causing the ozone loss over the northern mid-latitudes since this is where a majority of European citizens live."

The political response to the detection of the ozone hole in the Antarctic in the 1970s was the United Nations Vienna treaty on the protection of the ozone layer in 1985 and the Montreal Protocol in 1987 which have limited the industrial production of a range of ozone depleting substances such as chlorines and bromines. These chemicals have been found to destroy the ozone layer.

As a consequence, the atmospheric concentrations of some of these chemicals have either stopped rising or started to decline while the concentration of others is still rising.