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News briefs, part 1

Ozone Hole over South Pole Deeper But Smaller This Year

The Washington Post


The annual ozone hole over the South Pole opened deeper this year than has been measured before but over a smaller area, government scientists reported Monday.

At the center of the hole, which covered about half of the Antarctic land mass, the ozone concentration dropped to 44 percent of normal in late September and early October, according to measurements by NASA's Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer, which is orbiting Earth aboard a Russian satellite. The actual ozone level, however, may have been lower. According to measurements on a balloon flown from the ground on Oct. 6 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the ozone level fell to 39 percent of normal.

The previous record low, 49 percent of normal, was measured in 1991.

"It sounds alarming, but you have to remember that the center, where the depletion is greatest, is a relatively small area," said Jay R. Herman, a NASA atmospheric scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "The worst is over now and ozone levels are already increasing." As the intensity of sunlight increases, new ozone -- which absorbs ultraviolet radiation -- is manufactured.

The ozone hole was expected to be bad this year because of changes in atmospheric chemistry and global air circulation brought on by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991. If those effects behave like the smaller effects of a previous eruption, they should diminish significantly before the next hole opens.

The hole was also expected to be worse because of a roughly two-year cycle in global wind patterns which this year would have favored low ozone levels in any case.

These smaller fluctuations modify a general trend toward increasing ozone destruction that is expected to reach its worst around the year 2000. Then, as a result of CFC cutbacks mandated by the Montreal Protocol, the ozone layer is expected to heal itself and become thicker.

Georgia Seeks Russian Military Aid

The Washington Post

BATUMI, Georgia

Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze said his army was collapsing and appealed for Russian military help Monday after forces loyal to his main rival captured a vital railroad town Sunday.

Shevardnadze, who is now facing a full-scale civil war, issued the appeal to Russia a day after fighters of ousted president Zviad Gamsakhurdia captured Samtredia, a western Georgian town with a rail junction linking the country's Black Sea ports with the capital, Tbilisi. "Our army has virtually disintegrated," Shevardnadze told Georgian state radio.

"I pin definite hopes on Russia," said Shevardnadze, who earlier sent his prime minister to Moscow for talks. "We must decide how ... these two countries should counter what can be called an invasion of Georgia, an attack against its freedom and independence. The form, scope and strength of this will be decided today and tomorrow."

Diplomats have said they believe Shevardnadze is seeking heavy weaponry from Russia to halt Gamsakhurdia's advance.

Shevardnadze's decision to call on Russia is a sign of his deteriorating military position, and a further indication that his political future, and Georgia's, are in Moscow's hands.

Gamsakhurdia's forces, which control perhaps a third of the country, are still moving eastward and are now reported to be within 15 miles or so of Georgia's second-largest city, Kutaisi. If they capture it, they will cut Georgia virtually in half, sever the capital's supply lines and imperil Shevardnadze's hold on power.

In addition to the civil war, Shevardnadze is grappling with a tide of about 200,000 refugees who fled the westernmost Georgian region of Abkhazia last month after separatist rebels there, aided by forces from Russia, captured the provincial capital, Sukhumi.

Before Sukhumi was captured, Shevardnadze warned that its fall could lead quickly to the dismemberment of Georgia, a former Soviet republic about the size of West Virginia with a population of 5.4 million people. His prediction appears to be coming true.

In an interview last week, Shevardnadze said he was prepared to face Gamsakhurdia in an election. But Gamsakhurdia's position has been that he is already the legally elected president.

Gamsakhurdia, a Soviet-era dissident, became a nationalist hero by pressing for Georgian independence and became Georgia's first popularly elected president in May 1991. But within a few months he alienated many Georgians by arresting scores of journalists and opposition leaders, many of whom he labeled "spies." He displayed what Elizabeth Fuller, a specialist on Georgia at the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Research Institute in Munich, called "blatant chauvinism and a messianic view of Georgia's world mission."