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This Year's Ozone Hole Is the Smallest It's Been Since 1988

The hole in Earth's ozone layer is the smallest it's been since 1988, NASA satellite estimates observed.

While the ozone hole is still enormous—measuring about 19.6 million square kilometers (7.6 million square miles, or 2.5 times the size of the U.S.) at its annual peak extent this Sept. 11—that's much smaller compared to the average area of ozone hole maximums since 1991 of roughly 26 million square kilometers (10 million square miles).


"In the past, we've always seen ozone at some stratospheric altitudes go to zero by the end of September," said Bryan Johnson, NOAA atmospheric chemist. "This year our balloon measurements showed the ozone loss rate stalled by the middle of September and ozone levels never reached zero."

The ozone shield in Earth's stratosphere helps absorb the sun's dangerous ultraviolet radiation, which causes problems such as skin cancer.

Since the alarming discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole in the 1980s, international efforts such as the landmark 1987 Montreal Protocol have phased out the industrial production of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons used in air-conditioning, refrigeration and aerosol-spray propellants.

The Antarctic ozone hole at its widest extent for the year, as measured on September 11, 2017. Ozone Monitoring Instrument on NASA's Aura satellite.

"It's really small this year. That's a good thing," said Paul Newman, chief Earth scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

And while this year's tinier ozone hole is certainly good news, don't pat yourself on the back just yet for ditching the hairspray can.

First, NASA explained that an unstable and warmer-than-usual Antarctic vortex helped minimize the formation of polar stratospheric clouds, which are important precursors to the chlorine- and bromine reactions that destroy the ozone.

Secondly, NASA said "the smaller ozone hole extent in 2017 is due to natural variability and not necessarily a signal of rapid healing."

Scientists hypothesize that the ozone hole won't shrink back to its 1980 size until the year 2070—that's more than 50 years from now.

The ozone hole is still massive because harmful chemicals in the environment continue to pose a risk. However, with continued efforts to reduce chlorofluorocarbons, the hole will gradually become less severe.

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"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."

Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.

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"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.

Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.

Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.

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