(UR) Antarctica — Our precious earth is showing the first signs of recovering from man-made damage. Scientists at MIT have identified “fingerprints of healing” in the Antarctic ozone layer. This is the first sign of overcoming ozone trauma the earth has displayed in 30 years.

In the 1980s, scientists discovered a gaping, growing hole in a fragile layer of our atmosphere, and commenced studies on what had caused it. They found that though the hole waxed and waned with seasons, it grew 50 percent larger from human causes.

MIT’s Susan Solomon, who led a study of the most recent scientific findings, suggests that the hole in the ozone over Antarctica has shrunk by approximately 1.5 million square miles since 2000. Solomon has spent three decades studying the earth’s atmospheric chemistry.

The earth’s ozone recovery is linked to the decline of the use of atmospheric chlorine, which comes from chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

These chemical compounds were once emitted by dry cleaning stores, the use of old refrigerators, and commonly used aerosols, such as hairspray.

More than two decades ago, almost every country around the world agreed to ban CFCs in a concerted effort to save the earth’s ozone layer.

Solomon says that we can be confident that the earth is on a path to healing. She mused, “Aren’t we amazing humans, that we did something that created a situation that we decided collectively, as a world, ‘Let’s get rid of these molecules’? We got rid of them, and now we’re seeing the planet respond.”

The ozone layer, a layer of gas that sits about 19 to 30 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, is sensitive to many things, not unlike the human body. It responds to light, temperature, and, of course, environmental toxins. That ozone is responsible for making sure that not too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation reaches the planet and its inhabitants.

Excessive UV radiation kills off plankton in our oceans — a major food source for animals as diverse as fish, whales, tiny sea creatures, and one-celled organisms — and affects everyone else up the food chain. Ultraviolet rays can also damage plants on land.

Though sun exposure can be very life-supporting, excess UV rays also contribute to respiratory disease and skin cancer, as well as depleted immunity.

Ozone is a relatively unstable molecule, and though it makes up only a fraction of our atmosphere, it is absolutely vital for ensuring the continuation of life on this planet.

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