A Punakaiki-based scientist has come up with a new theory on the cause of the hole in the ozone layer.

Bill Hartley believes Starfish Prime, an American upper atmospheric nuclear test he witnessed in 1962, is partly to blame for the hole.

He was 12 and living in Westport when he saw a huge ball of light with rays coming out of it in the sky to the north.

"The light show was something unearthly and huge. For fun some weeks before, I had read Revelations, so I was shocked to see the moon glowing red in the now pink rays of light expanding from the central ball of golden light."


He said the rays got brighter and expanded across half of the sky until they began to fade after 30 minutes.

He didn't know what had occurred until the nine o'clock news came on the radio and the announcer said some people on the West Coast of the North and South Islands had witnessed the test.

He connected the event with the hole in the ozone layer in the 1980s when he read Earth's Aura - a layman's guide to the atmosphere in which author Louise B Young discussed the destructive effects atmospheric nuclear testing could have on ozone.

"This rang a very loud bell for me in that gradual depletion of ozone by chemical reactions would lead to a generalised thinning of the layer as the pollutants spread throughout the atmosphere, whereas massive nuclear blasts in the upper atmosphere would produce instant holes," Mr Hartley said.

He believed with the rise of the global warming phenomena everyone was overlooking the probability that the ozone hole was largely involved. Yet they were pointing the finger at fossil fuel burning emissions.

After some research he discovered the US tested 331 bombs in the atmosphere, six above the US and the rest above the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean with some in the South Atlantic.

Although the ozone hole was initially above the Pacific it had migrated slowly down to its present position over Antarctica - "in the meantime heating the ocean day by day for 50 years".

Russia also tested bombs in the atmosphere above their own country. Mr Hartley believed that had produced a hole over the Arctic, which would explain the rapid ice melting in places such as Greenland.

It had been noted by South Polar scientists that the hole got bigger each summer because light energised chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) molecules to release chlorine, which would eat up the ozone.

The air had been loaded with industrially used CFCs in the fifties and sixties when the atomic testing took place.

"Thus when the nuclear bombs were detonated the huge amount of light released activated the massive release of chlorine which gobbled up a gigantic hole in the ozone."

While the nuclear testing wasn't solely to blame for climate change he thought climate scientists were missing a piece of the puzzle without the information.

He didn't think anything could be done about the hole in the ozone layer but he thought climate scientists should add the piece of information to the puzzle.

Born and bred on the Coast, Mr Hartley had a BSc with honours in zoology from Canterbury University. He had worked as a scientist, spending 12 years in medical laboratories in Christchurch and 21 years as production manager at Agrimm Technologies manufacturing organic remedies for plant diseases.