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/October 13, 2005 by Inter Press Service <>

<> /
* Chilling Effects of Climate Change in the Antarctic *
by Gustavo González*

SANTIAGO - Climate change, which the scientific community links to the 
increased intensity of tropical storms and other extreme weather 
phenomena, is also making itself felt in Antarctica, where the "hole" in 
the ozone layer continues to grow and the increasing break-up of the ice 
shelves could have played a role in the recent deaths of Argentine and 
Chilean scientists and members of the military.

This undated photo shows polar stratospheric clouds lit from below near 
Kiruna, in Sweden. Polar stratospheric clouds, long known to play an 
important role in Antarctic ozone destruction, are occurring with 
increasing frequency in the Arctic. As high altitude clouds that form 
only at very low temperatures, they act as 'breeding grounds' for 
ozone-destroying molecules. (HO/NASA/Lamont Poole GN/jp/Reuters)

"The hole in the ozone layer expanded this year, and the quantity of 
ozone destroyed within that area increased as well," Bedrich Magas, a 
researcher with the University of Magallanes, told IPS from the city of 
Punta Arenas. Magas carries out daily measurements of ultraviolet 
radiation in the port city of 120,000, located at the southern tip of 

According to the Argentine Antarctic Institute, in September - the start 
of the southern hemisphere spring - the hole in the ozone layer reached 
28 million square kilometres, representing an eight percent increase 
from 2004. In addition, the ozone value dropped from 95 to 87 Dobson 
Units (a measure of the "thickness" of the ozone layer, with 220 units 
considered the acceptable lower limit).

In satellite images, the hole appears as a fluctuating oval-shaped area 
that in the most critical period - which peaks in September and October 
- stretches from Antarctica to the southern part of South America, 
affecting cities in southern Argentina and Chile like Punta Arenas, 
1,000 km north of the Antarctic's King George Island and 2,300 km south 
of Santiago.

The ozone layer protects the earth from the harmful effects of 
ultraviolet radiation, which include skin cancer and cataracts in humans 
and threats to flora and fauna.

Claudio Casiccia, a physicist who heads the Ozone Laboratory at the 
University of Magallanes, told IPS that in early October, the hole 
shrank to 21 million square kilometres, from 24 million square 
kilometres in August and 28 million square kilometres in September. 
Nevertheless, the ozone value has remained below 100 Dobson Units.

"The southern portion of South America, Patagonia and the Magallanes 
region, are under the influence of the Antarctic ozone hole for a short 
period in springtime, with varying thickness and intensity. This year, 
we had an event (in Punta Arenas), but there was no major increase in 
ultraviolet radiation, because the angle of the sun is still steep and 
it is quite cloudy," said the scientist.

The thinning of the ozone layer is blamed on chemical emissions like 
halons, which are used in fire extinguishers, CFCs 
(chlorofluorocarbons), used in refrigerators, air conditioners and 
aerosols, and methyl bromide, used as a pesticide and in building 

The Montreal Protocol, signed in 1987, set global targets for phasing 
out these chemicals, which "according to estimates by scientists will 
allow the ozone layer to recover by the middle of this century," Ana 
Isabel Zúñiga, head of the governmental National Environment 
Commission's Ozone Programme in Chile, told IPS.

But the scientific community itself has warned that the greenhouse 
effect, caused by carbon dioxide (CO2) and other emissions from the 
burning of fossil fuels blamed for global warming, is also having an 
impact on the thinning of the ozone layer.

The Kyoto Protocol, aimed at cutting emissions of greenhouse gases - 
which has not been signed by the United States, the largest single 
source of these gases - should thus act along with the Montreal Protocol 
to protect the ozone layer, while it curbs other phenomena attributed to 
global warming.

Attention has been focused lately on devastating hurricanes like Katrina 
and Stan, because studies have shown that warmer oceans and rising sea 
levels are producing stronger tropical storms, said Vicki Arroyo, 
director of policy analysis for the Virginia-based Pew Centre on Global 
Climate Change.

Another U.S. scientist, Peter Frumhoff with the Global Environment 
Programme of the Union of Concerned Scientists, told IPS in late 
September that "The recent science has clearly linked higher storm 
intensity to climate change."

The phenomenon of climate change was also blamed for the drought, high 
temperatures and flooding seen in Europe since 2002.

Casiccia said that while the link between global warming and extreme 
weather events is still being studied, "it has been accepted that there 
is an important relationship, in need of further study, between the 
weakening of the ozone layer and global climate change."

Paola Vasconi, coordinator of the Santiago-based Terram Foundation's 
environment programme, told IPS that the increase in ultraviolet 
radiation also drives up temperatures.

"One thing is probably certain: if the climate does not stabilise, the 
hole in the ozone layer will never close," said Magas, who pointed out 
that the United States emits "the shocking equivalent of 25 tons of CO2 
per capita every year, compared to 3.7 tons for Chile and a global 
average of three tons per capita."

The link between global warming and the thinning of the ozone layer was 
demonstrated in 1987 by international measurements taken in the 
Magallanes region, the scientist pointed out.

"The incredible thing is that after that, efforts were not undertaken to 
curb emissions of greenhouse gases, which are today, now that CFC 
emissions have been curtailed, the main cause of the destruction of 
ozone worldwide," said Magas.

"Although it sounds terrible, the hurricanes are welcome, if that's what 
it takes to change the mentality of the big, irresponsible polluters," 
he added.

U.S. "President (George W.) Bush issued a call to 'drive less' and 
announced a federal programme aimed at cutting fuel consumption - 
accompanied, of course, by deregulation policies on the environment 
allowing for increased exploration and drilling for oil in protected 
wilderness areas," said Magas.

On Sept. 16, International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, 
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan underscored the efforts made 
by the international community to curb the use of ozone-depleting 

The next day, two Argentine men lost their lives in Antarctica - 
biologist Augusto Thibaud and naval officer Teófilo González - when 
their snowmobile plunged into a deep hidden crevasse.

And on Sep. 28, Captain Enrique Encina and non-commissioned officers 
Fernando Burboa and Jorge Basualto, members of the Chilean army, died 
when their snow-cat fell into a 40-metre crevasse in Antarctica.

Magas pointed out that although there have always been crevasses on that 
continent, making travel dangerous, the ice shelves are increasingly 
breaking up due to the higher temperatures associated with global warming.

With a surface area of more than 14 million square kilometres, 
Antarctica is the fourth-largest continent. A full 95 percent of the 
territory is ice, and the continent accounts for 70 percent of the 
world's fresh water reserves.
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