Antarctic research at risk as British government cuts back on science

A base that discovered the lethal hole in the ozone layer is threatened by David Cameron’s ‘greenest government ever’.

In the early 1980s British meteorologist Joe Farman, based at the British Antarctic Survey, was studying measurements of ozone levels in the stratosphere. The gas, which protects Earth from deadly solar ultraviolet radiation, had been surveyed by instruments at the BAS’s Halley base in the Antarctic since 1957 to improve our understanding of polar meteorology.

But Farman and his colleagues, Brian Gardiner and Jonathan Shanklin, stumbled on something far more important than data about weather fronts. Their measurements revealed that Earth’s ozone layer had decreased by 40% between 1975 and 1984. An ozone hole was opening up over the southern hemisphere, threatening to allow ultraviolet radiation to reach the Earth and trigger epidemics of skin cancers.

The discovery caused consternation and eventually led to the signing of the Montreal protocol, which limited the manufacture of CFC gases that are used in refrigerators and other devices and which had been shown to be the cause of the ozone hole. That hole still looms over the Antarctic but is expected to recover thanks to the Montreal agreement – though not until 2080.


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