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The Ozone Layer Hole Over Antarctica Is Healing

NASA // Public Domain
NASA // Public Domain

In the last 200 years, we human beings have inflicted staggering amounts of violence and destruction on our home planet. The prognosis seems grim. But every so often, we see a glimmer of hope. The latest? Researchers in the Antarctic report that a tear in the ozone layer above the continent is showing signs of healing. They published their findings in the journal Science. 

For those of us who haven’t seen the inside of an Earth science classroom in years, here’s a quick refresher. The ozone layer is a blanket of ozone gas that wraps around our planet, shielding us from nearly all of the Sun’s radiation. Without this blanket, we’d be toast. But pollution has rent holes in this protective layer, leaving the planet and its inhabitants vulnerable to, you know, being burnt to a crisp. So yeah, it’s pretty serious.

Some of the best-known culprits in ozone weakening are chemical compounds called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were, for a time, widely used in popular products and appliances like aerosol sprays and air conditioners. By 1987, CFC-linked damage to the ozone layer was so severe that nations around the world signed a pact, agreeing to ban the chemicals. 

Apparently, the ban is working. Studies over the last 10 years have suggested that the ozone layer has begun to patch itself up in certain places, and the latest research in Antarctica bears that out. 

Lead author Susan Solomon is an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She and her colleagues have been monitoring the Antarctic ozone hole for years, looking at its area, height, and chemical profile. They now report that, from 2000 to 2015, the size of hole has shrunk by millions of square miles. 

“We as a planet have avoided what would have been an environmental catastrophe,” Solomon told Alexandra Witze in Nature. “Yay us!” 

Climate scientists estimate that even if the Antarctic hole continues closing at this rate, it won’t completely heal over until at least the year 2100, and the Arctic ozone hole shows no signs yet of mending. We still have a lot of work to do before we can declare victory, but this is still a very good start. 

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Health
Watch a Tree Release a Massive "Pollen Bomb" Into the Air
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In case your itchy, watery eyes hadn't already tipped you off, spring is in the air. Some trees release up to a billion pollen grains apiece each year, and instead of turning into baby trees, many of those spores end up in the noses of allergy sufferers. For a visual of just how much pollen is being released into our backyards, check out the video below spotted by Gothamist.

This footage was captured by Millville, New Jersey resident Jennifer Henderson while her husband was clearing away brush with a backhoe. He noticed one tree was blanketed in pollen, and decided to bump into it to see what would happen. The result was an explosion of plant matter dramatic enough to make you sniffle just by looking at it.

"Pollen bombs" occur when the weather starts to warm up after a prolonged winter, prompting trees and grasses to suddenly release a high concentration of pollen in a short time span. Wind, temperature, and humidity levels all determine the air's pollen count for any given day, but allergy season settles down around May.

After determining that your congestion is the result of allergies and not a head cold, there are a few steps you can take to stave off symptoms before they appear. Keep track of your area's pollen report throughout the week, and treat yourself with antihistamines or nasal spray on days when you know it will be particularly bad outside. You can also keep your home a pollen-free zone by closing all the windows and investing in an air purifier. Check out our full list of seasonal allergy-fighting tips here.

[h/t Gothamist]

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environment
The UK Wants to Ban Wet Wipes, And Parents Aren't Happy About It
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The United Kingdom has grown determined in recent years to reduce consumption of single-use products that pollute the environment. In April, fast food restaurant fans were dismayed to hear that plastic drinking straws are being phased out; plastic cotton swabs are also on the chopping block. Now, users of wet wipes that remove makeup and clean infant bottoms are looking at a future where reaching for one of the disposable cloths may not be so easy.

The BBC reports that wet wipes containing non-biodegradable plastic are being targeted for elimination in the coming years. The wipes contribute to “fatbergs,” giant impactions of waste that can slow or block movement in sewage systems. By some estimates, 93 percent of blockages are caused by consumers flushing the wet wipes into toilets despite package instructions to throw them in the garbage.

Not everyone is backing the move, however. Jeremy Freedman, who manufactures the wipes under the name Guardpack, says that the wipes are useful to health care workers and food preparation employees. He argues their use also conserves water normally reserved for handwashing.

The most vocal critics might be parents, who use the wipes to clean their baby’s bottom following a diaper change. Sentiments like “ban the fools that flush them!” are circulating on Twitter. The UK is looking to phase out the wipes and other problematic plastic products over the next 25 years.

[h/t BBC]

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