PerspectiveAtmospheric Science

Subtropical Rainfall and the Antarctic Ozone Hole

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Science  20 May 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6032, pp. 925-926
DOI: 10.1126/science.1206834

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For more than 100 years, researchers have understood that ozone in the stratosphere, the atmospheric layer between 10 and 50 km above Earth's surface, plays an important role in absorbing ultraviolet radiation and protecting life on Earth (1). In 1985, scientists and the public became alarmed when Farman et al. (2) reported that, during the Antarctic spring, stratospheric ozone concentrations over the continent were declining by as much as 50%, indicating the presence of a polar “ozone hole.” Implementation of the 1987 Montreal protocol, an international agreement that phased out the use of some chlorofluorocarbons and other compounds that destroy stratospheric ozone, has led to the first stage of recovery (3). Researchers, however, had not widely recognized the ozone hole's impact on the climate of the troposphere (the lowest 10 km of the atmosphere) until recent observational (4) and state-of-the-art climate modeling studies (58). These studies showed that ozone depletion has a large influence during the Antarctic summer, when it drives a major air current called the mid-latitude westerly jet to a higher latitude, closer to Antarctica; this reduces sea level pressure over the continent, cooling much of the continental interior, coinciding with a warming of the Antarctic Peninsula. On page 951 of this issue, Kang et al. (9) expand our understanding of ozone depletion's impact on climate. Using a series of carefully designed climate model experiments, they show that ozone-induced climate change is not confined just to the vicinity of Antarctica but extends over much of the Southern Hemisphere, even reaching the tropics, where it appears to have resulted in increased summer precipitation in the subtropics.