Rocket launches could re-open the hole in the ozone layer, researchers have warned.
The ozone layer protects Earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays and every year, a hole opens up over Antarctica.
This troubling phenomenon is caused by emissions of damaging chemicals.
Thanks to strict rules on the worst substances, the hole has been shrinking for years.
But now New Zealand researchers are warning that rocket launches could undo this progress.
“The current impact of rocket launches on the ozone layer is estimated to be small but has the potential to grow as companies and nations scale up their space programmes,” Associate Professor in Environmental Physics Dr Laura Revell says.
“Ozone recovery has been a global success story. We want to ensure that future rocket launches continue that sustainable recovery.”
What is the ozone hole?
Fixing the ozone hole is a rare environmental success story.
In the early 1980s, scientists discovered that man-made chemicals were damaging this vital protective layer.
The worst offenders – compounds called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) – were common in aerosols like hairspray and cooling devices.
But in 1987, the Montreal Protocol was signed, an international agreement to ban the substances. It is now ratified by all United Nations members and five other parties.
Subsequent agreements have tightened these rules – and shrunk the hole.
If current policies remain in place, the ozone layer is expected to disappear by 2066, the UN said earlier this year. If the Montreal Protocol had not been implemented, it is estimated that two-thirds of the ozone layer would have been destroyed by 2065.
But could rockets threaten this success?