Would it make sense to ask a doctor to examine a patient, but take away their stethoscope? That is what the Canadian government is asking scientists to do when it comes to ‘examining’ the ozone layer.
Many assume that the ozone problem was fixed in the 1980s. In reality, the annual Antarctic ozone hole keeps reappearing at near record sizes and last year, for the first time, scientists reported an ozone hole over the Arctic.
As the first ozone hole appeared in the northern hemisphere last year, Environment Canada decided to drastically reduce its ozone science and monitoring program. It closed several of Canada’s 17 ozone monitoring stations, stations which have provided the longest-running record of ozone levels in the world. They are about one-third of the Arctic ozone measurements.
In this penny wise and pound-foolish cost-saving measure, Environment Canada argues that satellite imagery and data collection are sufficient. History says otherwise.
In 1985, the British Antarctic Survey discovered the Antarctic ozone hole through routine ground level ozone monitoring, conducted to measure the density of the ozone layer. NASA’s atmospheric scientists say satellite imagery had missed the near total depletion of the ozone layer over Antarctica.
Satellite imagery and data collection did not — and cannot — give a complete picture of the stratospheric ozone layer because of the angle of the sun’s light over the Arctic and Antarctic. Ground level ozone monitoring is essential to cross-reference the satellite data and provide a full understanding of it. In-situ measurements are essential for validating satellite measurements, asserts Johannes Staehelin, chair of the World Meteorological Organization’s ozone science advisory group.
Following the alarming discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole, many governments signed the Montreal Protocol. It implemented a gradual phase-out regime of major ozone depleting chemicals used in aerosols, refrigerants, insulation foam propellants, fire retardants and agricultural fumigants.
With every country in the world signed on, the 1987 Montreal Protocol is still recognized as the most successful international environmental treaty to date. It was successful because it was based in the most accurate and complete scientific data available, and has put the ozone layer on the track to potential recovery. But to ensure that and remain vigilant, we need exact ozone science.
Closures in the ozone monitoring program may “lead to an erosion of the Montreal Protocol, which obliges Arctic countries to monitor the ozone layer and maintain scientific ozone research,” says Markus Rex, a former atmospheric scientist and now with the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research.
Last month, Harvard University scientists confirmed a further link between climate change and ozone layer depletion. Their study states that more intense storms, caused by global warming, via convection, thrust water vapor far higher into the stratosphere than previously thought possible. This creates atmospheric conditions which could lead to further, substantial ozone loss, making the connection between global warming and further ozone layer depletion more apparent (if not yet fully understood).
With the biggest Arctic footprint in the world, Canada is asserting its sovereignty over it, while significantly reducing science’s stethoscope to monitor the state of the ozone layer above it.
Canada’s ozone-monitoring network has collected key in situ data used all over the world showing the unprecedented depletion of stratospheric ozone over the Arctic in 2011. Closures within the Canadian ozone-monitoring network are “devastating for the whole field” says Tom Duck, an atmospheric researcher at Dalhousie University.
On the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol, top ozone scientists from around the world are gathering in Toronto this week for the Quadrennial Ozone Symposium in Toronto. Many will tell Canadian Environment Minister, Peter Kent that closing these vital stations is scientifically unwarranted and incomprehensible, and that their continued operation must be secure, even as the fate of the remaining ozone network remains uncertain.
Sultan Latif is a consultant with Greenpeace USA and Janos Mate is a senior consultant with Greenpeace International.
By Sultan Latif Janos Mate.
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