The Holes in the "Ozone Hole"

By Hugh W. Ellsaesser *

To create a dire threat out of the "Ozone Hole" it was necessary to use the now standard environ-mental technique of applying a one-way filter in examining the consequences of the actions of man (Ellsaesser 1974). Such a filter allows exploration and investigation only of the paths leading to detrimental effects while studiously avoiding calling attention to any of those pathways leading to effects that might be considered to be beneficial.

One of the first and most consistent steps in this process was to convert the term harmful ultraviolet into a single word – never using the term ultraviolet without this harmful qualifier – and to carefully avoid any mention of the beneficial effects of ultraviolet radiation. Even the U.S. government plays an active role in biasing the decision-making process, generously throwing funds to those who wish to investigate the hazardous consequences they have come up with but refusing even a penny to those who are brazen enough to suggest that any good could come from man's actions.

In June 1972, the National Committee for Photobiology of the National Academy of Science/Na-tional Research Council announced its intention to form the American Society for Photobiology, saying in part, "there is a growing general awareness of the unique importance of the effects of light (both
beneficial and detrimental) on man and all other living organisms (Smith 1974). Most vertebrates require so-called vitamin D for proper development of the skeleton – the cod fish being one of the few exceptions. The only source of this hormonal-sterol-called-vitamin for most is through the action of ultraviolet light on calciferol in their outer covering of skin, fur, or feathers – a route not open to fish, who thus had to evolve a way of manufacturing it without sunlight.

Hazards of Insufficient Light

The growing young who do not get sufficient "vitamin D," develop rickets, which Loomis (1970) termed "the earliest air-pollution disease." He claimed: "[Rickets] was first described in England about 1650, at the time of the introduction of soft coal, and it spread through Europe with the Industrial Revolution's pall of coal smoke." The German town of Wezlar, with its exceptionally narrow streets and dark alleys, "was infamous for rickets with entire streets where in house after house individuals crippled by rickets could be found," Loomis wrote.

Rickets is but one of the hazards of insufficient ultraviolet. Dantsig et al. (1967) went so far as to state:
"lf the human skin is not exposed to solar radiation (direct or scattered) for long periods of time, disturbances will occur in the physiological equilibrium of the human system. The result will be functional disorders of the nervous system, a vitamin D deficiency, a weakening of the body's defenses, and an aggravation of chronic diseases."

They reported substantial health benefits from the use in the Soviet Union of photaria, or installa-tions for artificial ultraviolet irradiation, for children and for persons working in mines and in industrial buildings without windows or situated north of the Arctic circle.

At present, the most serious health hazard in the United States from insufficient ultraviolet or "vita-min D" is osteomalacia, or wasting bone loss in the elderly. While this process can be arrested or slowed by proper treatment, the best treatment appears to be to assure that there is both adequate "vitamin D" and minerals available during the growth period while the skeleton is forming.

Bone fracture, particularly of the femur, among the elderly suffering from osteomatacia is
a far more serious health problem than ordinary skin cancer. There are some 400,000 to 600,000 new cases of skin cancer per year in the United States, while among the 20 million Americans affected by osteomalacia there are more than 1,200,000 bone fractures each year.

These statistics strongly suggest that any increase in ultraviolet resulting from ozone loss would, at least eventually, exert a beneficial irnpact on our health greater than the detrimental one now emphasized. This becomes even more credible when it is recalled that our bodies are far more capable of letting us know when we are getting too much ultraviolet than they are at letting us know when we are getting too little.

Ultraviolet light appears quite toxic to all forms of unpigmented living cetls, particularly the unicellular. Rather than being an unmitigated hazard, this means that it has very useful (to us) antibiotic properties. It is probably no accident that most early civilizations arose in localities that are today considered to be semidesert with lots of direct sun exposure.

Quantified Risks

Aside from studiously ignoring all possible beneficial consequences of increased ultraviolet, there has been an equally consistent refusal to state the detrimental effects (mainly skin cancer) quantitatively in a form that the public can evaluate for itself. On an annual mean basis the ultraviolet erythema dose – the dose of those wavelengths responsible for sunburn and presumably also for skin cancer – increases about 50-fold from the poles to the equator (Mo and Green 1974). This is roughly six doublings – or a doubling every 1,000 miles. In midtatitudes it increases even faster. It likewise increases with altitude, doubling from sea level to about 15,000 feet – or 1 percent per 150 feet, roughly. If plants and animals are as sensitive to changes in ultraviolet as they are now made out to be, why did we not long ago recognize ultraviolet damage to plants and animals as they have been introduced into new habitats all over the globe?

According to the National Academy of Sciences (1975), in the United States a 1 percent decrease in the stratospheric ozone layer will lead to increased ultraviolet and a 2 percent increase in skin cancer incidence,
or 12,000 additional skin cancers per year. This report also pointed out that the doubling distance for skin cancer incidence in the United States is 8 to 11 degrees of latitude, or roughly a100 percent increase over 600 miles; that is a one percent increase for a 6-mile displacemeni. toward the equator. (Note that this is based on data, not theory.) This 1 percent decrease in ozone is thus equivalent to a 12-mile displacement toward the equator. This means that the eventual equilibrium of the stratospheric ozone layer, predicted to result from continued release of freons (chlorofluorocarbons) at the 1975 rate, in terms of increased ultraviolet and skin cancer, would be equivalent to a displacement toward the equator of about 100 miles. Do you know of anyone who seriously worries about skin cancer when they are contemplating such a move?
The power of this argument is apparent in the red herring that is always tro1ted out when it is brought up:
"there is a big difference between voluntary and involuntary exposures." The purpose of this article is to put the matter in terms the public can evaluate for itself – something the "Ozone Hole" crowd doesn't want you to be able to do.


Measurements of ozone concentration in the atmosphere according to altitude, in parts per million by volume, over HalleyBay, Antarctica, Aug. 15 (solid line) and Oct. 13 (dashed line) in 1987, the year the "Ozone Hole" was deepest. Note that the ozone concentration at the bottom of "The Hole" (near 70 mbar at altitude 17 km) remains well above values throughouf the troposphere (below 350 mbar, that is, below altitude 8 km). This suggests to some that "The Hole" is caused by tropospheric air being lifted to the stratosphere and spread out between 72 and 20 km in the polar vortex.

Source : Brian G. Gardiner, "Comparative Morphology of the Vertical Ozone Profile in the Antarctic Spring, Geophysical Research Letters 15(8): 901 (1988).

What Ozone Depletion?

The most important piece of information withheld from the public is that at present there is no substantial evidence that stratospheric ozone is being depleted.

All recent trend analyses have been cornputed from 1969 or later. For the decade following 1962, upward trends in northern hemisphere or global ozone were estimated at 5 to l1 percent by Komhyr at at. (1971), Christie, (1973), London and Kelley (1974), and Angell and Korshover (1976). Since these upward trends were substantially larger than the downward trends now being cited, this seems to imply that mean global ozone is now higher than it was in 1962. The fact that the current analyses are not being extended back to 1962 (or 1958, when global collection and recording of the data began) suggests the same thing.

It should also be noted that most of the current ado about ozone depletion follows from a National Aeronautical and Space Administration press release and executive summary (NASA Report No. 1208) released in March 1988 (Keer 1988) covering a meeting of the NASA Ozone Trends Panel, for which the full report is yet to appear – two years later!

The scientists involved also frankly admit that the rate of ozone decline claimed is substantially faster than the decline their models compute based on freon release rates. And, although there is little argument that the observational data indicate a decline in total ozone over the past decade or so, direct observation of the erythema ultraviolet flux at eight United States stations since 1974 all show a clear declining trend, rather than the increasing trend predicted.

Despite more than a decade of intensive study and modeling of stratospheric ozone, the "Ozone Hole" was not predicted before its discovery. New chemistry to explain "The Hole" has had to be developed – manufactured ad hoc and post facto. As we currently understand the problem, the processes producing the "Ozone Hole" are lirnited:

    1. observationally to levels between 12 and 23 kilometers in the interior of the Antarctic winter polar vortex, and to the austral spring months of Septernber and October; and

    2. theoretically to regions in the atmosphere remaining at or below – 83 C (#150; 117' F) for at least 60 to 90 days, during the latter half of which it must also be exposed to sunlight.

Neither of these limitations would permit a very large volume of the atmosphere to undergo ozone destruction by the currently hypothesized process supposedly producing the "Ozone Hole."

In addition, ozone in the confined layer of 12 to 20 kilometers of the Antarctic austral spring polar vortex was observed to be essentially completely depleted, 95 percent or greater, in 1987 and reduced by 80 to 98 percent in1989 (Deshter et al. 1990). As Deshler et al. stated:
"This suggests that O, depletion was nearly complete within layers in the lower stratosphere in these years, and that a lengthening or increase in the severity of the conditions conducive to O, depletion may only lead to additional slight decreases in O3,...."

When coupled with the spatial and temporal limitations cited above, this does not suggest a threa-tening progressive decline in ozone on a global scale. Without hypothesizing additional, and currently unexpected changes, the worst possible scenario would be the appearance of a similar, smaller, and briefer "Ozone Hole" restricted to the Arctic spring polar vortex.

Beyond this, each year an Antarctic "Ozone Hole" has been observed, there has been a
direct relationship between the degree of ozone loss and the delay beyond normal breakup time at which spring breakup of the Antarctic winter vortex occurred (Komhyr et al. 1986). Because we do not know what is causing this latter anomaly in the atmospheric circulation, there is no way the associated dynamics can be ruled out as playing a role in the formation of the "Ozone Hole" itself.

This argument is even stronger when coupled with the findings of Stolarski and Schoeberl (1986) that, while "The Hole" is forming, there is little change in the total amount of ozone south of 44 S and that spring declines in "The Hole" were more than made up by ozone increases in the donut-shaped ozone maximum surrounding "The Hole."

The possibility that the "Ozone Hole" existed prior to its discovery in 1985 (Farman et al. 1985),
cannot be definitively ruled out. (read George Dobson´s work on his observation of this pheno-menon back in 1957.) Because of the extreme difficulties and rnarginal conditions for making observations of total ozone over Antarctica in the austral spring, unprecedentedly low values such as are found in "The Hole" would, in all probability, have been rejected as erroneous and not recorded prior to the availability of confirmatory observations from balloon soundings and satellites.

In any case, the observational data available to date suggest that the Antarctic "Ozone Hole" is an ephemeral phenomenon, appearing and disappearing periodically or aperiodically, rather than something that has just been identified and is steadily getting stronger or bigger (Singer 1988).

Ozone Certainties

Not all aspects of the "Ozone Hole" issue are as uncertain as those cited thus far. The mandated phase-out and replacement of the freons (chlorofluorocarbons) with Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (which, because of the hydrogen, will largely decornpose in the troposphere before they can carry their chlorine into the stratosphere where it can attack ozone) will have quite certain consequences. They will be less efficient, require larger volumes of working fluid and heavier compressors, be more subject to burning and explosion, and be more hazardous to those coming into direct contact with them.

For all of these reasons freon replacements will make refrigeration and air conditioning more expensive and hazardous. Unless we can alt look forward to unlimited affluence, this means that refrigeration and air conditioning will be less widely used. Has any one calculated the health conse-quences of this?
United States health statistics show a dramatic decline in deaths caused by diseases such as stomach cancer when refrigeration was introduced and cardiorespiratory deaths when air conditioning was introduced.

An even more imminent problem that has received little attention is what happens when the large number of auto air conditioners now on the road need a freon recharge and none is available. Simply switching to the freon replacements being developed does not now appear to be an option, without also replacing the major portion of the air conditioning systems with heavier, more expen-sive, and less efficient parts.

What we appear to have here is another example of "The Emperor's New Clothes" or the life sacrifices of the Aztecs. Aside from a few tailors or priests (the greenies and their friends), there doesn't appear to be much in it for the rest of us.

  • Dr. Ellsaesser, an atmospheric scientist, retired from the United States Air Force Air Weather Service after 21 years as a weather officer and from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory after 24 years in climate research. He is continuing his studies at Livermore as a Participating Guest Scientist. In recent years he has investigated many of the largely unsubstantiated claims that man is fouling his nest.

This article was first published in the Summer 1990 issue of 21st Century Science & Technology magazine,


  • J.K. Angell and J. Korshover, 1976. "Global Analysis of Recent Total Ozone Fluctuations," Monthly Weather Rev. 104:63.

  • A.O. Christie, 1973. "Secular or Cyclic Change in Ozone," Pure and Applied Geophysics 106-108:1000.

  • N.M. Dantsig, D.N. Lazarev, and M.V. Sokolov, 1967. "Ultraviolet Installations of Beneficial Action," Applied Optics 6:1872.

  • T. Deshler, D.J. Hofmann, J.V. Hereford and C.B. Sutter, 1990. "Ozone and Temperature Profiles Over McMurdo Station Antarctica in the Spring of 1989," Geophys. Res. Lett. 17:1S1.

  • H.W. Ellsaesser, 1974. "The Dangers of One-way Filters," Bull. Amer. Meteorol. Soc. 55:1362.

  • J.C. Farman, B.G. Gardiner and J.D. Shanklin, 1985. "Large Losses of Total Ozone in Antarctica Reveal Seasonal CIO"/NO, Interaction," Nature 315.207.

  • R. Kerr, 1988. "Stratospheric Ozone is Decreasing," Science 239:1489.

  • W.D. Komhyr, E.W. Barrett, G. Slocum, and H.K. Weickmann, 1971. "Atmospheric Total Ozone Increase During the 1960s," Nature 232:390.

  • W.D. Komhyr, R.D. Grass, and R.K. Leonard, 1986. "Total Ozone Decrease at South Pole, Antarctica, 1964-1985," Geophys. Res. Lett. 13:1248.

  • J. London and J. Kelley, 1974. "Global Trends in Total Atmospheric Ozone," Science 184:987.

  • W.F. Loomis, 1970. "Rickets," Scientific American 223:77.

  • T. Mo and A.E.S. Green, 1974. "A Climatology of Solar Erythema Dose," Photochem, Photobiol. 20:483.

  • National Academy of Sciences, 1975. Environmental Impact of Stratospheric Flight (Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences).

  • S.F. Singer, 1988. "Does the Ozone Have a Future?" EOS: Trans. American Geophys. Union 69:1588.

  • K.C. Smith, 1974. "The Science of Photobiology," Bíoscience 24:45.

  • R.S. Stolarski and M.R. Schoeberl, 1986. "Further Interpretation of Satellite Measurements of Antarctic Total Ozone," Geophys. Res. Lett. 13:210.

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