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Unlocking the Secrets of the Stratosphere With the JPSS Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS)

February 26, 2024

Stratospheric ozone is vital for protecting life on Earth, as it absorbs most of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Located approximately 15 to 30 kilometers above the Earth, the ozone layer acts as a shield, preventing damaging UV light from reaching the surface. Depletion of this layer leads to increased UV radiation exposure, which poses significant health risks to humans and can disrupt ecosystems and food chains.

An illustration shows the Earth's atmospheric layers. The bottom layer is the troposphere, which extends from the Earth’s surface up to about 10 miles high, where an airplane is flying and smokestacks emit pollutants. Above this layer is the stratosphere, which extends from 10 to 31 miles high and contains the ozone layer. The illustration shows the filtering effect of the ozone layer on ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, displaying three types of UV rays: UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C, with their respective w
Miles above the surface of the Earth, a thin layer of stratospheric ozone gas acts as a shield that protects all life on Earth from harmful ultraviolet light. Credit: NASA.

Human activities have contributed to the thinning of the ozone layer, mostly through the emission of ozone-depleting substances like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). These substances, once widely used in refrigerants and propellants, rise into the stratosphere where they release chlorine and bromine molecules that cause ozone molecules to break down. The discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole in the mid-1980s led to the global action of the 1987 Montreal Protocol, effectively phasing out ozone-depleting substances and paving the way for the ozone layer’s expected recovery by the mid-21st century. Still, the annual reappearance of the Antarctic ozone hole highlights the importance of continuous monitoring to ensure progress towards recovery and to inform global mitigation strategies.

An animation shows the daily progression of total ozone for the 2023 season for the Southern Hemisphere (July to December). The data is from Suomi-NPP OMPS. Swirling colors indicated the concentration of ozone. Warmer colors depict higher concentrations, while cooler colors indicate lower concentrations.
In 2023, the Antarctic ozone hole, defined by regions with ozone levels under 220 Dobson units, was the 12th largest ever recorded. Its peak size was reached on September 21, 2023, shown in shades of orange and red which signify areas of higher ozone concentration compared to the cooler tones of blue, yellow, and green. Credit: NASA Ozone Watch.

Monitoring and understanding ozone layer recovery and its implications for global climate are enabled by advanced satellite instruments like the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS). OMPS is equipped with nadir-viewing spectrometers, which measure total atmospheric ozone, and a limb-viewing spectrometer that provides a unique perspective for capturing vertical profiles of ozone and aerosols. These capabilities are essential for studying polar ozone depletion, understanding the impact of stratospheric ozone on global circulation, and exploring other atmospheric phenomena.

Left image: The image depicts a graphical representation of the NOAA-21 satellite in orbit around the Earth. Two arrows extend from the satellite towards the Earth, each labeled with a different viewing perspective. The arrow pointing directly down to the Earth is labeled "Nadir-view," indicating a viewpoint looking straight down towards the Earth's surface. The second arrow, angling off to the side and pointing towards the Earth's horizon, is labeled "Limb-view," Right: The image shows an artistic represen
Left: A rendering of OMPS onboard NOAA-21 shows nadir and limb viewing perspectives. OMPS has two nadir-viewing spectrometers (Nadir Mapper and Nadir Profiler) that point straight down at the Earth. These measure total ozone through the entire atmospheric column, from top to bottom. The OMPS instruments onboard Suomi NPP and NOAA-21 also have a limb-viewing spectrometer (Limb Profiler) that looks diagonally through an atmospheric halo known as the Earth’s limb. Right: A cross-section of the Earth's ozone layer as measured by the OMPS Limb Profiler aboard the Suomi NPP satellite. Smaller concentrations of atmospheric ozone are shown in blue, while larger concentrations are shown in orange and yellow. Credit: NASA.

Dr. Natalya Kramarova and her colleagues at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Atmospheric Chemistry and Dynamics Lab are enhancing the algorithms used to extract crucial data from the OMPS Limb Profiler. Their latest research is featured in the 2023 JPSS Science Digest (Feature 6), offering insights into how the JPSS Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite is advancing stratospheric ozone monitoring. Read the article to learn more about the implications of these improvements for ozone layer recovery, climate modeling, understanding global circulation, and other applications.