Healing of ozone hole could accelerate global warming
By Darren Quick
January 26, 2010
You'd think the healing of the hole in the ozone layer would be good news, but it seems that although every cloud is said to have a silver lining, they also have a gray one as well. The Antarctic ozone hole was once regarded as one of the biggest environmental threats, but researchers now argue that the ozone hole over Antarctica helped to shield this region from carbon-induced warming over the past two decades and its repair could actually increase warming in the southern hemisphere.
According to scientists at the University of Leeds, high speed winds beneath the Antarctic ozone hole whip up large amounts of sea spray, which contains millions of tiny salt particles. This spray then forms droplets and eventually clouds, and the increased spray over the last two decades has made these clouds brighter and more reflective, to reflect more of the sun’s powerful rays back into space.
As the ozone layer recovers it is believed that this feedback mechanism could decline in effectiveness, or even be reversed, leading to accelerated warming in the southern hemisphere.
"These clouds have acted like a mirror to the sun's rays, reflecting the sun's heat away from the surface to the extent that warming from rising carbon emissions has effectively been canceled out in this region during the summertime," said Professor Ken Carslaw of the University of Leeds who co-authored the research.
"If, as seems likely, these winds die down, rising CO2 emissions could then cause the warming of the southern hemisphere to accelerate, which would have an impact on future climate predictions," he added.
The key to this newly-discovered feedback is aerosol - tiny reflective particles suspended within the air that are known by experts to have a huge impact on climate.
Greenhouses gases absorb infrared radiation from the Earth and release it back into the atmosphere as heat, causing the planet to warm up over time. Aerosol works against this by reflecting heat from the sun back into space, cooling the planet as it does so.
The University of Leeds team made their prediction using a state-of-the-art global model of aerosols and two decades of meteorological data.
"Our research highlights the value of today's state-of- the-art models and long-term datasets that enable such unexpected and complex climate feedbacks to be detected and accounted for in our future predictions," added Professor Carslaw.