Polar vortex
A polar vortex is a persistent, large-scale cyclone
In meteorology, a cyclone is an area of closed, circular fluid motion rotating in the same direction as the Earth. This is usually characterized by inward spiraling winds that rotate anticlockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere of the Earth. Most large-scale...

 located near one or both of a planet's geographical pole
Geographical pole
A geographical pole is either of the two points—the north pole and the south pole—on the surface of a rotating planet where the axis of rotation meets the surface of the body...

s. On Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

, the polar vortices are located in the middle and upper troposphere
The troposphere is the lowest portion of Earth's atmosphere. It contains approximately 80% of the atmosphere's mass and 99% of its water vapor and aerosols....

 and the stratosphere
The stratosphere is the second major layer of Earth's atmosphere, just above the troposphere, and below the mesosphere. It is stratified in temperature, with warmer layers higher up and cooler layers farther down. This is in contrast to the troposphere near the Earth's surface, which is cooler...

. They surround the polar high
Polar high
The polar highs are areas of high atmospheric pressure around the north and south poles, south polar high being the stronger one because land gains and loses heat more effectively than sea...

s and are part of the polar front
Polar front
In meteorology, the polar front is the boundary between the polar cell and the Ferrel cell in each hemisphere. At this boundary a sharp gradient in temperature occurs between these two air masses, each at very different temperatures....


Arctic and Antarctic variation

The vortex
A vortex is a spinning, often turbulent,flow of fluid. Any spiral motion with closed streamlines is vortex flow. The motion of the fluid swirling rapidly around a center is called a vortex...

 is most powerful in the hemisphere
A sphere is a perfectly round geometrical object in three-dimensional space, such as the shape of a round ball. Like a circle in two dimensions, a perfect sphere is completely symmetrical around its center, with all points on the surface lying the same distance r from the center point...

's winter, when the temperature gradient
Temperature gradient
A temperature gradient is a physical quantity that describes in which direction and at what rate the temperature changes the most rapidly around a particular location. The temperature gradient is a dimensional quantity expressed in units of degrees per unit length...

 is steepest, and diminishes or can disappear in the summer. The Antarctic
The Antarctic is the region around the Earth's South Pole, opposite the Arctic region around the North Pole. The Antarctic comprises the continent of Antarctica and the ice shelves, waters and island territories in the Southern Ocean situated south of the Antarctic Convergence...

 polar vortex is more pronounced and persistent than the Arctic
The Arctic is a region located at the northern-most part of the Earth. The Arctic consists of the Arctic Ocean and parts of Canada, Russia, Greenland, the United States, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland. The Arctic region consists of a vast, ice-covered ocean, surrounded by treeless permafrost...

 one; this is because the distribution of land masses at high latitudes in the northern hemisphere gives rise to Rossby wave
Rossby wave
Atmospheric Rossby waves are giant meanders in high-altitude winds that are a major influence on weather.They are not to be confused with oceanic Rossby waves, which move along the thermocline: that is, the boundary between the warm upper layer of the ocean and the cold deeper part of the...

s which contribute to the breakdown of the vortex, whereas in the southern hemisphere the vortex remains less disturbed. The breakdown of the polar vortex is an extreme event known as a Sudden stratospheric warming
Sudden stratospheric warming
A sudden stratospheric warming is an event where the polar vortex of westerly winds in the winter hemisphere abruptly slows down or even reverses direction, accompanied by a rise of stratospheric temperature by several tens of kelvins...

, here the vortex completely breaks down and an associated warming of 30-50 degrees Celsius over a few days can occur. The Arctic vortex is elongated in shape, with two centres, one roughly over Baffin Island
Baffin Island
Baffin Island in the Canadian territory of Nunavut is the largest island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, the largest island in Canada and the fifth largest island in the world. Its area is and its population is about 11,000...

 in Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 and the other over northeast Siberia
Siberian High
The Siberian High is a massive collection of cold or very cold dry air that accumulates on the Eurasian terrain for much of the year. It reaches its greatest size and strength in the winter, when the air temperature near the center of the high-pressure cell or anticyclone is often lower than...

. In rare events, the vortex can push further south as a result of axis interruption, see January 1985 Arctic outbreak
January 1985 Arctic outbreak
The 1985 Arctic outbreak was a meteorological event, the result of the shifting of the polar vortex further south than is normally seen. Blocked from its normal movement, polar air from the north pushed into nearly every section of the eastern half of the United States and Canada, shattering record...


Ozone depletion

The chemistry of the Antarctic polar vortex has created severe ozone depletion
Ozone depletion
Ozone depletion describes two distinct but related phenomena observed since the late 1970s: a steady decline of about 4% per decade in the total volume of ozone in Earth's stratosphere , and a much larger springtime decrease in stratospheric ozone over Earth's polar regions. The latter phenomenon...

. The nitric acid in polar stratospheric cloud
Polar stratospheric cloud
Polar stratospheric clouds or PSCs, also known as nacreous clouds , are clouds in the winter polar stratosphere at altitudes of 15,000–25,000 meters...

s reacts with CFC
A chlorofluorocarbon is an organic compound that contains carbon, chlorine, and fluorine, produced as a volatile derivative of methane and ethane. A common subclass are the hydrochlorofluorocarbons , which contain hydrogen, as well. They are also commonly known by the DuPont trade name Freon...

s to form chlorine
Chlorine is the chemical element with atomic number 17 and symbol Cl. It is the second lightest halogen, found in the periodic table in group 17. The element forms diatomic molecules under standard conditions, called dichlorine...

, which catalyzes
Catalysis is the change in rate of a chemical reaction due to the participation of a substance called a catalyst. Unlike other reagents that participate in the chemical reaction, a catalyst is not consumed by the reaction itself. A catalyst may participate in multiple chemical transformations....

 the photochemical destruction of ozone
Ozone , or trioxygen, is a triatomic molecule, consisting of three oxygen atoms. It is an allotrope of oxygen that is much less stable than the diatomic allotrope...

. Chlorine concentrations build up during the winter polar night, and the consequent ozone destruction is greatest when the sunlight returns in spring (September/October). These clouds can only form at temperatures below about -80°C
Celsius is a scale and unit of measurement for temperature. It is named after the Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius , who developed a similar temperature scale two years before his death...

. Since these temperatures are rarely reached in the Arctic, ozone depletion at the north pole is much less severe than at the south. Accordingly, the seasonal reduction of ozone levels over the Arctic is usually characterized as an "ozone dent," whereas the more severe ozone depletion over the Antarctic is considered an "ozone hole." This said, chemical ozone destruction in the 2011 Arctic polar vortex attained, for the first time, a level clearly identifiable as an Arctic "ozone hole".


The Antarctic Polar Vortex forms during the polar winter. The ozone hole lasts from August to November.

Outside earth

Other astronomical bodies are also known to have polar vortices, including Venus
Venus is the second planet from the Sun, orbiting it every 224.7 Earth days. The planet is named after Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. After the Moon, it is the brightest natural object in the night sky, reaching an apparent magnitude of −4.6, bright enough to cast shadows...

 (double vortex - that is, two polar vortices at a pole http://www.esa.int/esaCP/SEMYGQEFWOE_index_0.html), Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. It is often described as the "Red Planet", as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance...

, Jupiter
Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest planet within the Solar System. It is a gas giant with mass one-thousandth that of the Sun but is two and a half times the mass of all the other planets in our Solar System combined. Jupiter is classified as a gas giant along with Saturn,...

, Saturn
Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second largest planet in the Solar System, after Jupiter. Saturn is named after the Roman god Saturn, equated to the Greek Cronus , the Babylonian Ninurta and the Hindu Shani. Saturn's astronomical symbol represents the Roman god's sickle.Saturn,...

 and Saturn's moon Titan
Titan (moon)
Titan , or Saturn VI, is the largest moon of Saturn, the only natural satellite known to have a dense atmosphere, and the only object other than Earth for which clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid has been found....

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