NOAA satellite illustration describing the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica in 2015.
09 Mar 2023

Researchers warning: The ozone layer is being damaged by forest fires


Smoke from the huge forest fires in Australia 2010 and 2020 has contributed to widening the ozone hole over Antarctica by ten percent, scientists warn.

Previous research has shown that more than a million tonnes of smoke were pumped into the atmosphere during the bushfires that raged in late 2019 to early 2020. These fires destroyed eucalyptus forests and shrouded Sydney and other cities in smoke and ash for several months.

The new study,  which was published in the journal Nature,  points out that some of the chemical components of the smoke caused a chemical reaction in the atmosphere which in turn caused the opening in the ozone layer to grow by the equivalent of two million square kilometers.

The ozone hole was at first discovered to be caused by human pollution. iÍn recent decades global agreements to cut back or replace certain chemicals  have yielded results, and the ozone layer has had a chance to heal. Various UN models have predicted that the ozone layer over the Southern Hemisphere will be fully restored by 2060.

However Susan Solomon, the lead researcher behind the study, is concerned that the effects of climate change, such as more frequent and intense wildfires, could slow this recovery.

Illustration Credit:  NOAA
The 2015 Antarctic ozone hole area was larger and formed later than recent years, according to scientists from NOAA and NASA. On October 2, 2015, the ozone hole expanded to its peak of 28.2 million square kilometers (10.9 million square miles), an area larger than the continent of North America.


Using data from NOAA and NASA satellites, this images shows the ozone layer from two perspectives. The blue colors indicate normal levels of ozone and red colors indicate the area associated with the ozone hole. The vertical profile in green colors shows how the actual thickness of the ozone layer changes, as measured by the OMPS Limb sensor on the Suomi NPP satellite. As the satellite orbit passed over Antarctica, very low levels and thicknesses of ozone were measured. Such low levels of ozone allow dangerous ultraviolet radiation to reach the Earth's surface.