It’s one of the most iconic images of changes we’ve made to our environment: the hole in the ozone layer. Teams of scientists and several important instruments played a huge role in a discovery that had large repercussions both for our air and for our understanding of climate change. The total ozone mapping spectrometer (TOMS) and the solar backscatter ultraviolet instrument (SBUV) have been indispensable to our current knowledge of the atmosphere.
It doesn’t get much more dramatic: in 1978, strapped aboard a satellite called Nimbus 7, the TOMS was commissioned to study weather patterns via the mapping of global ozone. The data the device returned was much more substantial: the TOMS was capable of taking pictures of the ozone layer daily, giving researchers a near-constant monitoring of the area. In effect the TOMS was a pair of all-seeing eyes, taking images of the entirety of the ozone layer and the first instrument to confirm the existence of the ozone-layer hole. The TOMS program was finally closed in 2007 after an admirable 30 years of service and has been replaced by the ozone monitoring instrument.
The SBUV, like the TOMS, is a frequent flier in NASA’s atmospheric research: it was originally strapped to several polar-orbiting weather satellites and similarly provided vital data about the ozone layer, including the vertical distribution of ozone in the atmosphere as well as total ozone concentrations globally. More advanced versions of the SBUV, like the SBUV/2, continue to monitor ozone.
Together, both instruments demonstrate how valuable monitoring is: the historic decline of ozone levels was both confirmed and made visible by powerful instrumentation.
Today research continues not only on the hole in the ozone layer but on ozone and atmospheric health in general. For more on current atmospheric research, check out the scientists who dig deeper into these issues.