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Unintended consequences

Healing Antarctica’s ozone hole has a possible downside

1:30pm, June 12, 2008

Via a complicated cascade of effects, a full recovery of the ozone hole over Antarctica in the coming years could significantly boost warming of the atmosphere over and around the icy continent.

After years of decline, the springtime concentrations of ozone in the atmosphere high over Antarctica have begun to increase — a sign that the ozone hole is recovering (SN: 12/24&31/05, p. 418).

Stratospheric ozone blocks much of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation that would otherwise reach Earth’s surface and boost rates of skin cancer.

In one sense, however, the ozone hole is somewhat beneficial: It has kept Antarctica cooler than it otherwise would have been, says Seok-Woo Son, an atmospheric scientist at ColumbiaUniversity.

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