Most years, atmospheric waves knock the vortex to lower latitudes in later winter, where it breaks up. In comparison, the Antarctic vortex is very stable and lasts until the middle of spring. But in 2011, an unusually quiescent atmosphere allowed the Arctic vortex to remain strong for four months, maintaining frigid temperatures even after the sun reappeared in March and promoting the chemical processes that deplete ozone.
The vortex also played another role in the record ozone low.
"Most ozone found in the Arctic is produced in the tropics and is transported to the Arctic," Strahan said. "But if you have a strong vortex, it's like locking the door -- the ozone can't get in."
To determine whether the mix of man-made chemicals and extreme cold or the unusually stagnant atmospheric conditions was primarily responsible for the low ozone levels observed, Strahan and her collaborators used an atmospheric chemistry and transport model (CTM) called the Global Modeling Initiative (GMI) CTM. The team ran two simulations: one that included the chemical reactions that occur on polar stratospheric clouds, the tiny ice particles that only form inside the vortex when it's very cold, and one without. They then compared their results to real ozone observations from NASA's Aura satellite.
The results from the first simulation reproduced the real ozone levels very closely, but the second simulation showed that, even if chlorine pollution hadn't been present, ozone levels would still have been low due to lack of transport from the tropics. Strahan's team calculated that the combination of chlorine pollution and extreme cold temperatures were responsible for two thirds of the ozone loss, while the remaining third was due to the atypical atm
|Contact: Maria-Jose Vinas|
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center