image credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video (Flickr CC)

A hole roughly five times the size of Germany has been observed in the ozone layer above the Arctic this year. The ozone layer is important because it filters the Sun’s powerful UV rays, which can cause skin cancer, cataracts, immune deficiency and damage to vegetation.

Since the 80’s the once much talked about phenomenon of ozone depletion has been far more pronounced in the Antarctic region, but for the first time scientists have found a more or less equal ozone ‘hole’ in the northern hemisphere’s Arctic zone. Though man-made chemicals released into the atmosphere eat away at the ozone, the effect is driven and exacerbated by extreme cold conditions in the stratosphere.

The findings, reported yesterday in the journal Nature, showed that the hole expanded over northern Russia, parts of Greenland, and Norway. This could potentially mean those living in these areas are likely to have been exposed to higher levels of UV radiation.

–Reuters

Unusual cold and cyclonic weather this year are being attributed as the main driving forces that caused these conditions in the Arctic to rival those previously associated only with ozone depletion in the Antarctic during the 1980s. The northern ozone hole was also observed moving over parts of Eastern Europe and Mongolia this April.

For more on the story see reports from Deutsche Welle and Reuters. Also check out the below video report on the Arctic ozone hole from Euronews.

For a scientific explanation of the ozone hole and the effects of UV rays see the The Ozone Hole website.