Ozone; The hole that always was

I’ve explained the Ozone layer so many times on other people’s blogs that I finally decided to write it up on my own blog so I could just point at it.  There’s an assumption that people make that the famous Ozone holes are man made.  While some pollutants can in fact destroy Ozone, the holes themselves are in fact natural.

Ozone exists as a layer of gas in the earth’s atmosphere.   The layer right underneath it is Oxygen.  Both are made of the same atoms (O) but Oxygen is two of them stuck together (O2) and Ozone is a threesome (O3).  So to illustrate, here’s a picture of earth surrounded by a layer of oxygen which is in turn surrounded by a layer of Ozone.  This is not to scale, it is not in the right proportions, there are many other layers, much mixing of gases in each layer, but this is close enough to explain the issues:


The next thing to understand is what happens when Ultraviolet light (UV) strikes the atmosphere.  There are various wavelengths of UV (most commonly grouped as UV-A, UV-B and UV-C).  Because of the big scare concerning Ozone, most people are aware that Ozone absorbs UV which can be harmful to people, so running out of it sounded awful bad.  But some frequencies of UV destroy Ozone, breaking the molecules apart.  Here’s a little movie that NASA made to show UV rays breaking apart Ozone http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/vis/a000000/a000800/a000824/a000824.mpg  As the various O and O2 float around, they will meet up and form Ozone again as the video shows.  What the video doesn’t show is that in the real Ozone layer there are all sorts of other molecules hanging around.  Everything from Hydrogen to Methane to sulfur to yes, CFC’s.  Since Oxygen is highly reactive, a free O or even O2 is more likely to combine with them to create H2O, CO2 and other compounds than to go right back to Ozone.

 Other frequencies of UV pass through the Ozone layer, some getting absorbed and some getting through and hitting Oxygen, which causes Ozone to be formed.  NASA made a movie to show that too http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/vis/a000000/a000800/a000823/a000823.mpg 

So what we have is a balanced system where Ozone is constantly being destroyed at the top of the Ozone layer, and constantly being created at the top of the Oxygen layer:


So what if something happens to destroy a lot of Ozone?  Well the Ozone layer would thin, and as a result less UV gets absorbed by the Ozone.  This means the amount of UV that gets through the Ozone layer to the Oxygen layer goes up, and so the rate of Ozone creation increases:


The same is true in reverse if the Ozone layer gets thicker .  Less UV reaches the Oxygen layer and so less Ozone is produced until it shrinks to normal once more:


So what about the Ozone holes over the poles?  They’re supposed to be there.  Consider what happens to sunlight as it goes through the atmosphere in earth’s higher latitudes.  Since it has to pass through the Ozone layer at an angle, a lot more gets absorbed than at lower altitudes.  But when we get to the very top of the planet, we reach a height at which the UV is destroying Ozone, but it never gets low enough to strike Oxygen, so the rate at which Ozone is being created falls off:


 As a consequence, most of the Ozone gets destroyed, leaving a “hole” in the Ozone layer.  Actually its not even a hole, its just an area where there are  O2 and O molecules hanging around that used to be Ozone:


Now its not like there is zero Ozone in that hole, there is some because there are Oxygen atoms left over from Ozone breaking down, and they can in fact form back into Oxygen molecules and then into Ozone if they get the right amount of UV (and don’t react with other things like Hydrogen and Methane).  It would be more accurate to call it a “depression” than an actual hole.  There is still “air” there, just not much Ozone in it.  In the early spring the hole starts to grow as the polar region comes out of darkness and the Sun’s rays can start destroying Ozone.  As summer progresses, the inclination to the sun becomes more direct, and the Sun’s rays start hitting the Oxygen layer, creating Ozone.  The reason that the Ozone hole over the south pole is bigger is because earth’s orbit is elliptical which tends to amplify the destruction cycle in the southern hemisphere and diminish it in the northern hemisphere.

So, do people in far northern communities (or far south in the southern hemisphere) need to panic?  In fact, the hole would have to get very big for that to be a problem.  The UV rays we are exposed to, even at very high latitudes don’t pass through the Ozone hole to get to earth surface:

So is the Ozone hole a complete hoax?  Pollutants like CFC’s could make the holes larger in theory, but the fact is that the holes are natural in the first place, and they fluctuate daily as the earth spins, seasonally as the earth’s inclination to the sun changes, annually as the earth’s orbit takes it closer and farther away from the sun, and from fluctuations in the sun’s output of UV in the first place.

NASA is keeping close tabs on the Ozone hole in the Antarctic.  Here’s a graphic that shows how the ozone hole grows quickly and then recovers again annually:

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31 Responses to Ozone; The hole that always was

  1. Denny says:

    Mr. Hoffer,

    Love you new site! Great job and keep up the great work that you do… 😉 On this article, I’ve “always” suspected this! Thanks again…

    • davidmhoffer says:

      Thanks Denny.
      I’ve added some very cool animations from NASA showing how UV destroys Ozone and created it from Oxygen as well as a graph showing the annual variation in the Antarctic Ozone hole.

  2. Kirk P. Fletcher says:

    Is it not true that New Zealand has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world? I read it is 4 times the rate of the US, UK & Canada and that they receive 40% more UVb than comparable latitudes in the northern hemisphere. Perhaps we see this because they are so close to Antarctica?

    Do electrical storms contribute in any significant amount to the creation of Ozone? I have read that there are a significantly higher number of electrical discharges in the northern hemisphere than the southern hemisphere. I have always believed that atmospheric friction is greater in the northern hemisphere than the southern hemisphere because of the greater surface area of land mass and this is why we see more electrical discharges in the northern hemisphere. I have assumed in the past that this partially explains the reason why the thickness of the Ozone layer can be the thinnest at the South Pole rather than the North Pole.

    • davidmhoffer says:

      I wouldn’t know about the cancer rate in New Zealand, nor what the UVb rates are. What I can suggest though is that the sun’s rays come through the atmosphere at an angle from the north. They don’t even pass through the region over Antarctica where the hole is. None of which changes the point of the article however, which is that the hole is natural.

    • Spencer Rapley says:

      maybe sunscreen gives skin cancer.

    • Manfred says:

      The incidence of melanoma in NZ is the highest in the World. The incidence rate of skin cancer in Australia and NZ is x4 Canada, US and UK. Given the small populations with a substantial Celtic component chiefly resident in coastal regions, leading sun exposed outdoor coastal lifestyles in frequently or always sunny warm weather, the environmental (UV) risk exposure (dose) is significant. Then consider the contribution made to ‘dose’ by the geography of lands that extend from Darwin (Lat 12degS) to Invercargill (Lat 46degS), and the negligible airborne particulate pollution. Doubtless there are additional environmental contributions and significantly, individual genetic predisposition but the citing the ozone hole as a putative cause is as David H explains, nonsense. However, never let the failed Fourth Estate and the force-fed policies of the UN “Sustainable” Development Agenda get in the way of an orchestrated “truth.” It entirely suits their MO and repellent objectives.

      • Michael says:

        If you have been to NZ you would know that the sun there is particularly harsh there. I’m talking burning from under 10 minutes of exposure. Even compared with Perth which is also in the southern hemisphere the sun is still noticeably more intense in New Zealand.

  3. Shibui says:

    Concerning the cancer rate, is that among all New Zealanders, or mainly among those of European extraction? My understanding is that in Australia, the local Aboriginal people have a very low skin cancer rate compared to those of European extraction. It would be interesting to compare Maori rates. If low, it could be mean that the Ozone hole is not a new problem, and the locals have adapted accordingly.

    • Shibui says:

      To answer my own question:
      According to the Cancer Society of New Zealand, in 2009 there were 326 deaths from Melanoma. There were 7 Maori deaths and 3 Pacifica deaths = 3.1 percent.

      • Kirk P. Fletcher says:

        That is a good indication that adaptation over time is occurring because of environmental factors.
        I live in the Phoenix, Arizona area and I do spend a lot of time outside so the exposed areas of my skin get tanned pretty well. When I travel to Anchorage, Alaska in July to visit family and friends for a couple of weeks I always get sun burned. It just seems weird to get sun burned up in Alaska. I understand that because of the Inclination Angle of the Earth , during Summer Anchorage is closer to the Sun than Phoenix but I have always thought that the Ozone layer is thinner there at that time of the year.

  4. dmh says:

    I understand that because of the Inclination Angle of the Earth , during Summer Anchorage is closer to the Sun than Phoenix but I have always thought that the Ozone layer is thinner there at that time of the year.

    1. Summer is caused by inclination to the sun, not distance. Distance is almost identical. In fact, Anchorage is closer to the sun in winter than it is in summer due to the elliptical orbit of the earth. It is entirely inclination that causes the effects you observe.

    2. Even in July, the sun’s rays come in from the south, essentially passing below the ozone hole. If they came from the north, they’d pass through the ozone hole, but they don’t. The effect you observe is entirely due to intensity, not the ozone hole.

    3. Length of day in summer is far longer in Anchorage than it is in Phoenix. You have a few more hours per day to get burned in Anchorage in July than you do in Phoenix.

  5. Bad_karma says:

    Brillient, I was wondering about this too, that there has been an assumption by the environmentalist movement (they seem to make a lot of them) that the hole is our fault, and is a new development is baseless, just because we discover that there is a hole does not mean that it is a new development, by that logic, nothing exists until we discover it……

    I was wondering about the reflected light also being a factor, since the south pole has year round ice coverage and the north does not, the light being reflected back into space and therefore making a second trip through the ozone layer should mean that the ozone and oxygen molecules get double the chance of being hit by a UV photon all year round, as opposed to the north pole where they only get that double chance half the year.

  6. Michael J. ELLIOTT says:

    Hello, when the panic set in, and the “Experts” started testing things to see which one would destroy Ozone, why did they stop looking when they found that the Cloroflocarbons did it. How do we know that many other well known chemicals can also destroy Ozone.

    Anyway does Nature all by itself also provide the equivelent chemicals which make up the ingredients in the Cloroflocarbons, I would suspect so.

    A lot of very good Refrig. machinery got Junked on the say so of some scientists, and we ended up with a infearer refrigation substance.

    This matter of a Ozone Hole reminds me of the “Consensus” over the dangers of DDT. Now of course even the UN has given DDT the green light.

    I rest my case.

    Michael Elliott.

  7. Why is the ozone hole growing back?

  8. Vince says:

    There is another natural reason for the south pole having a larger ozone hole. Ozone can’t be created when the temperature in the ozone layer goes below, IIRC, minus 135 degrees. Only the south pole gets this cold so it gets a bigger hole.

  9. Dan M. says:

    Good arguments, guys. I learned in high school physics in the 80’s that ozone is created by UV rays from the sun. It stands to reason that the area on Earth that gets the least amount of sun will also have the least ozone. I’ve also heard, please correct me if I’m wrong, that natural processes like volcanic eruptions and evaporation of ocean water, put far more ozone depleting chemicals into the atmosphere than man ever has. If it were possible to destroy the ozone layer, it would have happened long before we discovered it.

  10. Love your parody site. I’m sure that anyone without a background in science finds your arguments compelling. I was particularly intrigued by your picture showing an “oxygen layer” below an “ozone layer” – given that the percentage of molecular oxygen in the troposphere and stratosphere is essentially constant at slightly less than 21% by number. Easy to check – but you undoubtedly take in your audience, since they are unlikely to do so.

    • davidmhoffer says:

      Sure. There is no actual “layer” per se. More like lowered concentrations in some areas/levels. Going into that detail was not necessary to illustrate the concept. There are of course other mechanisms at play as well, including CFC’s. The point is that the natural cycle is very large and rather dominant.

  11. Chaam Jamal says:

    Total column ozone data from ground stations do not appear to support the Rowland-Molina theory. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2719537

  12. Chaam Jamal says:

    I would like to share two online documents.

    First, the history of the ozone scare episode 1969-2015 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/291833573_ozonePaperResource

    and second, an empirical study of total column ozone data from 12 ground stations

  13. ErikwithaK says:

    It looks as though you have this “layer of oxygen” at the surface of the Earth, the troposphere. The troposphere is mostly nitrogen, 78%, while only about 21% is oxygen.

  14. Jamal Munshi says:

    Ozone holes are localized and seasonal events and they do not constitute evidence of ozone depletion on a global scale as claimed by the UNEP in the Montreal Protocol. Please see

  15. Roberts Grip says:

    According to an early 1980’s edition of the McGraw Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, the Ozone ‘thinning’ was actually discovered in 1946 (if memory serves) using weather balloons….not 1985 when they launched new satellites to observe it. In 1946, CFCs weren’t even in widespread use yet (and they can take many years to ascend into the Stratosphere). I have long suspected that this ‘thinning’ is a natural occurrence.

  16. Roberts Grip says:

    Another significant effect that could attribute to these ‘holes’ is charged particles from the sun funneled thru the Earths magnetic field (the Auroras are a famous example). These undoubtedly destroy O3 as well (a VERY unstable molecule). These could lead to seasonal variations in the size of the phenomenon…and I don’t think it is a coincidence that the earth is a bit closer to the sun when the hole forms in the Antarctic spring (much more significant thinning region than in the northern spring)….closer sun = greater potential charged particle density (not just from solar storms either, but normal solar emissions probably have an impact on the Stratosphere).

  17. Ronelyn says:

    I suspect the ‘ozone holes’ beat up has more to do with finding a way to ban efficient refrigerants that patents were running out on. The banning of R12 has seen a range of inefficient and more expensive replacements.. As usual the truth is at the end of the money trail.

  18. Essere says:

    Would be good to point out where the O2 originates from in the first place therefore others also understand the importance of plants; that animals should be grazing and not kept in factory farms.

    • Trevor says:

      Most OXYGEN comes from Oceanic Plankton , not forests as we are constantly told
      by “tree huggers” ( but I love my garden too ! ) .Even grasses ( think crops ) carry out
      photosynthesis and absorb CO2 and release O2 , but on a much shorter cycle than trees. At night PLANTS cease photosynthesis and revert to normal biological processes CROPS produce the food ( grain ) which humans eat and straw ( fodder ) which some animals eat. Either way , CO2 is ‘locked-up’ in crops just as efficiently as trees.
      Plankton has the great advantage in that when it dies it carries the carbon down to the ocean-depths , not to re-emerge for a long time , possibly thousands of years.
      So , with this constant loss of carbon it is good to think that WE HUMANS are able to burn carboniferous material and return it to the poor plants in the form of CO2.
      The amount of CARBON 13 produced by bombardment of NITROGEN 14 atoms in the
      upper atmosphere would hardly produce sufficient CO2 to meet the needs of our
      burgeoning population. Of course , some animals produce METHANE which also
      oxidises to CO2 , so I guess they are also making a contribution !

  19. Trevor Ridgway says:

    Essere………….Would you PLEASE point out WHAT , if any , of my comment was NONSENSE !
    Also , HOW is it at variance with the TWO (2) links you directed me to view ?
    What part of my comment constitutes BRAINWASHING ? ( or are you just especially sensitive ? )
    Are you an “animal rights” person with a particular view on food production such as “free-range”
    as opposed to “high intensity” farming ? If so , WHY are you attacking ME PERSONALLY instead of my logical comment , which merely observed that some animals “produce METHANE” which is only in dispute with regard to kangaroos…(.and that has been poo-poo-ed as well ) ?
    If you REALLY want to ATTACK SOMEONE why not pick on the UN IPCC that wants to REDUCE
    THE LEVEL of CO2 which will ADVERSELY affect plants ( and thereby animals ) which will produce less Oxygen and if that concentration drops then there will be less interacting to form Ozone
    and with less Ozone………….well , you know the story ( see above if not ).
    Hoping for a RATIONAL DISCUSSION , I remain your humble contributor ! Trevor.

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