For the first time in 35 years the Earth's protective ozone layer is beginning to recover. The ozone hole is shrinking, and while that is good news for New Zealand and the rest of the world, experts are warning that as the ozone hole reduces, climate change could worsen.
For 15 years NIWA's Dan Smale has been monitoring the ozone hole over Antarctica.
"This machine measures chlorine monoxide," says Mr Smale. "When chlorine monoxide is high, ozone is very low; therefore, there is a big ozone hole."
The ozone layer is a fragile shield of gas around the Earth that protects humans from harmful ultraviolet rays. Since 1980 the ozone hole has been getting bigger.
"The ozone hole is directly above us right now [in Antarctica]," says Mr Smale.
Its depletion has been linked to skin cancer. But the Montreal Protocol, a global agreement to phase out ozone-destroying substances, has seen the ozone hole stabilise and start to recover.
"I think it is amazing," says Mr Smale. "I think it is great. It shows you that science is working and they said 'stop the chlorine and the ozone hole will recover', and that is exactly what's happened."
Now internet giant Google is taking to the skies. Called Project Loon, balloons are launched in Tekapo to cruise the upper atmosphere.
"We are hoping through this project to gain a greater understanding of the dynamics and processes that happen in the stratosphere that contain the ozone hole, for example," says Dr Greg Bodeker.
The balloons don't carry Google cameras; instead a computer plots their location and tracks air particles. The plan that Google has is to have tens of thousands of balloons in the upper atmosphere at any one time, a lot of them over Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.
"The vortex affects the ozone hole, the ozone hole affects the vortex – there is a coupling between the two and it affects the climate," says Dr Bodeker. "It does affect the climate."
As the ozone hole reduces, there are now questions what effect it will have on climate change.
"What is going to happen to the climate when the ozone hole starts to recover?" asks Mr Smale. "What are the implications for New Zealand in terms of wind and rain and temperature?"
Those are questions that will only be answered in time. Antarctica's ozone hole will be a major player when it comes to climate change.
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