Ozone layer repaired, but not because of Covid-19 lockdown
Claim: The Ozone layer is recovering after a larger than usual hole formed above the Arctic in April 2020 due to a reduction in aerosol pollutants caused by Covid-19 lockdowns.
Fact: The polar vortex is a system of strong and cold circular winds in the Arctic which caused the formation of the hole, and when the polar vortex went away, the hole closed up as predicted.
After many countries around the globe put their citizens under lockdown to control the spread of Covid-19, a number of viral social media posts and news stories have popped up, highlighting the apparent benefits that may come from everyone staying at home. Shutting down factories and workplaces has resulted in a significant decrease in air pollution. On the other hand, this may have unintended consequences such as worsening the impact of heat waves, as pollution reflects some of the sun’s heat away from the earth.
One of these viral stories is about the Ozone layer healing itself. A number of Facebook and Twitter posts in Pakistan in the last month refer to this claim, along with many Facebook videos from Indian Facebook pages which often cross the border to Pakistan.
Ozone is the name given to a particular kind of Oxygen molecule. In nature, oxygen atoms usually bond together in groups of two, which is commonly denoted as O2, or Oxygen gas. When Oxygen atoms bond together in groups of three instead, the substance’s properties become very different from regular Oxygen gas in the air. This gas, written as O3 or Ozone, is a pungent smelling chemical that breaks down into Oxygen gas when exposed to the sun’s UV radiation. In the Ozone layer of the earth’s atmosphere, it performs the function of preventing most of the harmful UV radiation from the sun reaching the earth’s surface.
On 6 April 2020 The Copernicus European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts, or ECMWF, which tracks Ozone depletion over the poles, announced that a record breaking hole had been identified in the Ozone layer over the Arctic. The cause of the hole was identified as a stronger than average polar vortex, or a circular storm.
On 23 April 2020, Copernicus EXMWF tweeted an update on the record breaking Ozone layer hole that had formed in early April. They shared an illustration of the aforementioned polar vortex splitting into two smaller storms, allowing Ozone gas rich air into the polar regions.
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
On 26 April 2020 international news outlets also propelled the fake news further when they shared the ozone layer’s recovery and associated it with the Covid-19 lockdown. Copernicus ECMWF Tweeted out a clarification on the same day, repeating that the Ozone layer hole repairing itself had nothing to do with lower pollution because of the lockdown.
Summary: Although viral claims have attributed the repairing Ozone layer to Covid-19 lockdowns, the hole in the Ozone layer formed and healed purely due to yearly meteorological events.