Finally some good news regarding the health of our planet: The hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica appears to have shrunk.
According to Europe's MetOp weather satellites, the ozone hole's size is at a record low. Per the satellite's data from 2012, hole was the smallest it has been in the last decade.
Scroll down for a photo of the ozone hole.
LiveScience notes that the hole over Antarctica first appeared in the early 1980s and resulted from the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other ozone-depleting chemicals. It typically occurs from September through November, as a result of high winds, which channel cold air across the continent. Ozone-depleting chemicals are most damaging in cold weather.
In 2012, "It happened to be a bit warmer... in the atmosphere above Antarctica, and that meant we didn't see quite as much ozone depletion as we saw [in 2011], when it was colder," explained Jim Butler with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo.
In addition to the yearly shifts attributed to fluctuating winter temperatures, the United Nations has also taken an active role to help shrink the ozone hole. In 1987, nearly 200 countries signed the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, an international agreement to limit the production of chemicals that significantly harm the ozone layer. The U.N. reports that, by 2006, the countries that ratified the Protocol "reduced their consumption of ozone-depleting substances by approximately 95 percent." Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2003 called the Montreal Protocol "perhaps the single most successful international agreement to date."
Despite all the good news, however, there is still work to be done. Our depleted ozone layer isn't expected to recover to 1960s-era levels until around 2050, notes Phys.org. And despite positive steps in repairing the ozone hole, the phenomenon is only slightly related to the much larger problem of global warming.
PHOTOS of the hole in the ozone layer from 1996 - 2012:
CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this piece attributed the MetOp satellites to the European Space Agency (ESA). MetOp is a joint project by the ESA and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT).
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