Earth’s protective ozone layer is slowly but noticeably healing at a pace that would fully mend the hole over Antarctica in about 43 years, a new United Nations report says. A once-every-four-years scientific assessment found recovery in progress, more than 35 years after every nation in the world agreed to stop producing chemicals that chomp on the layer of ozone in Earth’s atmosphere which shields the planet from harmful radiation linked to skin cancer, cataracts, and crop damage, the AP reports. "In the upper stratosphere and in the ozone hole we see things getting better," said Paul Newman, co-chair of the scientific assessment.
The progress is slow, according to the report presented Monday at the American Meteorological Society convention in Denver. The global average amount of ozone 18 miles high in the atmosphere won’t be back to 1980 pre-thinning levels until about 2040. And it won’t be back to normal in the Arctic until 2045. Antarctica, where it’s so thin there’s an annual giant gaping hole in the layer, won't be fully fixed until 2066, according to the report, which can be seen in full here. Scientists and environmental advocates across the world have long hailed the efforts to heal the ozone hole—springing out of a 1987 agreement called the Montreal Protocol that banned a class of chemicals often used in refrigerants and aerosols—as one of the biggest ecological victories for humanity.
Signs of healing were reported four years ago but were slight and more preliminary. "Those numbers of recovery have solidified a lot," Newman said. The two chief chemicals that munch away at ozone are in lower levels in the atmosphere, said Newman, chief Earth scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Chlorine levels are down 11.5% since they peaked in 1993 and bromine, which is more efficient at eating ozone but is at lower levels in the air, dropped 14.5% since its 1999 peak, the report said. The healing of the ozone layer is "saving 2 million people every year from skin cancer," United Nations Environment Program Director Inger Andersen told the AP. (Read more ozone layer stories.)