This year's hole is large for this time of year, based on results from the last decade: only the ozone holes of 1996 and 2000 had a larger area at this point in their development. Envisat's Scanning Imaging Absorption Spectrometer for Atmospheric Chartography (SCIAMACHY) routinely monitors ozone levels on a global basis, continuing a dataset of measurements stretching back to mid-1995, previously made by the Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment (GOME) aboard the earlier ESA spacecraft ERS-2.
ESA data form the basis of an operational near-real time ozone monitoring and forecasting service forming part of the PROMOTE (PROtocol MOniToring for the GMES Service Element) consortium, made up of more than 30 partners from 11 countries, including the Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute (KNMI).
As part of the PROMOTE service, the satellite results are combined with meteorological data and wind field models so that robust ozone and ultraviolet forecasts can be made. In a first for ESA, these results are being used by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) to compile their regularly-updated Antarctic Ozone Bulletin.
The precise time and range of Antarctic ozone hole occurrences are determined by regional meteorological variations. During the southern hemisphere winter, the atmospheric mass above the Antarctic continent is kept cut off from exchanges with mid-latitude air by prevailing winds known as the polar vortex. This leads to very low temperatures, and in the cold and continuous darkness of this season, polar stratospheric clouds are formed that contain chlorine.