What's so bad about that ozone hole anyway?

Russ and Larry of Chicago asked: Why can’t we use bad ozone from pollution to replenish the thinning ozone layer? (originally published Nov. 8, 1988, republished today, July 30, 2012).

Cecil points out that the stratospheric ozone layer blocks solar UV, which might otherwise incinerate us all.

But he also points out that, for meteorological reasons, the “ozone hole” over Antarctica is located where it is (say, rather than over L. A.) for a reason. This seems to say that, even as global pollution gets worse (or whatever causes that ozone hole), it’s going to stay over Antarctica, rather than grow and spread out over the populated areas of the world.

So if the ozone hole is stuck over Antarctica, why is it such a problem? Is there some reason we need to care about excess UV there? Will it incinerate the penguins? Will it incinerate the ice sheet and drown the rest of us?

About a quarter century’s worth of science between the original question and your updated inquiries-this should be an interesting thread.

Going from the first sentence to the second is your main problem. The hole centers on Antarctica, but that doesn’t mean it can’t expand northwards until somewhere you actually care about is affected. The secondary issue is that what you care about might be farther south than you think. The polar oceans are very productive and zapping all the plankton there with too much UV might screw up the entire planet’s ocean ecology.

It’s a bit moot, as international environmental treaties (you know the kind that certain political parties are so scared of) have rather successfully addressed the ozone depletion problem. The hole hasn’t gone away, but it’s not getting much bigger, and projections are that it will start shrinking in the next couple decades.

It moves:

It’s not just Antarctica, where few people live (aside from the fringes when it occasionally shifts north); last year had an ozone hole form over the Arctic for the first time, and it affected far more populated regions (northern Europe):

If we hadn’t banned CFCs when we did, it is likely that an Arctic ozone hole would be an annual occurrence and much worse than it was last year. Also, note that global warming, which is most pronounced over the Arctic, cools the stratosphere due to less energy escaping from the surface; an unusually cold stratosphere last spring lead to the record ozone loss, thus the recovery time of the ozone layer is expected to be delayed.