COVID-19 has had a tumultuous impact on the entire world. However, amidst all the crisis, some positive news related to the environment has also emerged.
Suspending the function of many industries and factories due to the lockdown, all over the world, has resulted in a decrease in pollution at various levels. For example, in Wuhan city, which is considered as the epicentre of the pandemic, the pollution levels have surprisingly come down by 21.5% (according to China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment).
Not just in China, significant changes have been observed in India, New York (50% decline in Carbon Monoxide emission) and Venice (crystal clean canals) as a consequence of lockdown due to the pandemic.
Recently, amidst all these rosy pictures of environmental improvement, the world received another shocking and worrisome news, the creation of an unprecedented ozone layer hole over the Arctic Region. Although ozone holes are common in the Antarctic Region, it is not so common in the Arctic region.
As per the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), the unprecedented hole was roughly as big as Greenland. The scientists of CAMS had reported that unlike the ozone holes that are created over the Antarctic region due to chemicals like chlorine and bromine, which hover in the stratosphere, this ozone hole over the Arctic region has been created due to a strong and durable polar vortex.
Copernicus scientist Antje Inness reports, “It is very unusual for such a strong ozone depletion to occur in the northern hemisphere, but this year’s polar vortex was exceptionally strong and persistent, and temperatures were low enough to allow stratospheric clouds to form for several months.”
According to the National Weather Service, a polar vortex is a large area of low pressure and cold air that surrounds both of Earth’s poles. The polar vortex in the Arctic region is comparatively weaker than that of the South, i.e. the Antarctic region, primarily due to the presence of land areas and mountain ranges, which disturb the weather to a certain extend.
On April 23, 2020, CAMS scientists reported that the hole in the ozone layer is now closed. Naturally, our first tendency would be to think that it is solely because of COVID-19, and the imposed lockdown, which has reduced the pollution level and has contributed to the access to clean air.
However, the scientists of CAMS fully oppose this notion, stating, “This Arctic ozone hole actually has nothing to do with coronavirus-related lockdowns.”
The closure of the ozone hole has been due to the polar vortex itself which has got split into two parts, thereby providing the Arctic region with a relative heat-wave, with a temperature up to 20 degrees Celsius more than is normal at this time of the year.
The unprecedented 2020 northern hemisphere #OzoneHole has come to an end. The #PolarVortex split, allowing #ozone-rich air into the Arctic, closely matching last week's forecast from the #CopernicusAtmosphere Monitoring Service.
— Copernicus ECMWF (@CopernicusECMWF) April 23, 2020
Although we cannot give the lockdown and COVID-19 credit for the closure of the ozone hole over the Arctic Region, this case is particularly important as it suggests that climate change is a bigger problem than COVID-19 and hence must not be overlooked. This unusual strong polar vortex can be a product of climate change.
Corona outbreak has a minimal role in restoring the environment, as the pandemic cannot bring huge change for the anthropogenic damage initiated decades ago. The environmentalists, scientists and other researchers are also worried that we will again be back to what it used to be once this crisis is over.