The ozone layer and ozone depletion dominated the news from the late-Eighties through the 2010s, leaving many worrying a couple of growing hole on this protective layer and the problems it could cause. Today, climate change and global warming attributable to carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases are the dominant climate stories.
Does this mean ozone depletion isn’t any longer a critical environmental issue and we are able to ease our minds about this once-important topic? No. Simply because ozone depletion has lost some popularity with news stations as global warming has taken hold doesn’t mean we are able to put it on the back burner and leave it sit.
We cover the continued importance of ozone depletion and more below.
What Is the Ozone Layer and Ozone Depletion?
The ozone layer is a section of Earth’s upper atmosphere — between roughly 9 and 22 miles above the surface of the Earth and just above the troposphere — containing a high concentration of ozone molecules. The ozone layer has the unique and vital job of absorbing solar radiation, akin to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, and keeping it from reaching the Earth’s surface.
Ozone depletion is the slow thinning of this ozone layer, allowing a greater concentration of UV radiation to achieve the Earth’s surface. Most ozone depletion occurs within the polar regions, most notably over Antarctica.
What Are the Current Dangers to the Ozone Layer?
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are the largest threat to the ozone layer today. Years ago, CFCs were present in aerosol sprays and refrigerator coolants. These CFCs themselves weren’t destroying the ozone layer. As a substitute, it was the chemicals they broke down into because the sun’s UV rays contacted them, akin to chlorine.
Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which were once present in refrigerants, insulating foam, solvents, and more, are also ozone-depleting substances (ODS) because they release chlorine atoms within the stratosphere too, which destroys the Earth’s ozone layer.
Fortunately, the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer, which led to the phase-out of all CFCs and other ozone-depleting chemicals, was ratified by all 197 United Nations (UN) members. A 2016 amendment helped also phase out HCFCs. This phase-out led to the slowing of ozone loss from the Earth’s atmosphere and the eventual evidence of ozone recovery starting in 2000 and continuing today.
Another threats to the atmospheric ozone layer include chemicals like methyl bromide, halons, and methyl chloroform. These chemicals are utilized in various pesticides, fire extinguishers, and solvents, respectively.
Recent threats have since emerged within the depletion of the ozone layer, and a serious one is dichloromethane emission. This can be a naturally occurring chemical, but it could actually even be emitted from industrial production. In truth, from 2011 through 2019, China’s dichloromethane emissions nearly tripled.
Nevertheless, if dichloromethane emissions are held to current levels, it could only delay the ozone repair by about five years.
Is the Ozone Layer Still a Concern?
Yes, though the Antarctic ozone hole is showing signs of repair and is on pace to totally repair itself around 2050, it stays a serious concern. First, all of the nations that ratified the Montreal Protocol must proceed abiding by it. If not, this will bring ozone depletion back.
Nevertheless, there are other ozone concerns too. A serious issue was the 2018 discovery that though the upper stratosphere ozone concentration was increasing, the lower stratosphere levels were still declining. This could possibly be a direct results of short-lived chlorinated chemicals, akin to dichloromethane, reaching these lower levels before being eliminated by the sun’s UV rays.
Can We Live Without the Ozone Layer?
No. All life on Earth as we realize it would stop to exist without the ozone layer. This protective layer keeps the complete power of the sun’s UV radiation from reaching the surface of the Earth. If this radiation reaches the Earth’s surface unimpeded, it could actually result in skin cancer and cataracts. Plus, it is vitally harmful on many other levels to the DNA of plants and animals.
What Will Occur if the Ozone Layer Is Destroyed?
In only days of us losing the ozone layer protection, the radiation from the sun would make photosynthesis inconceivable for plants, resulting in the mass extinction of many plants. Only the most important and slowest-growing plants would survive this wave. Eventually, though, even these larger and more resilient plants, akin to a number of the largest trees on this planet, would succumb.
This could result in the death of most herbivores on the planet, eventually choking off the food supply for carnivores and omnivores. This impact to the ecosystem would eventually result in the worldwide extinction of all animals. And any remaining animals would likely die from skin cancer as a result of the sun’s harmful radiation.
On top of all this, you wouldn’t have the ability to set foot in the daylight without almost immediately beginning to burn, because the unfiltered sunlight contacts your skin.
Is There Still a Hole within the Ozone Layer in 2022?
While the opening within the ozone layer has shrunk over time and the total ozone density has increased, it stays in place as of 2022. The Antarctica ozone hole had a median size of 8.91 million miles in 2022. This sounds massive — and it’s — however it’s smaller than the 8.99 million square miles in 2021 and significantly smaller than its average size at its peak in 2006.
How Does Ozone Depletion Affect Human Life?
Ozone depletion can have a spread of effects on human life, directly and not directly. Most directly, ozone depletion increases the quantity of UV radiation that reaches the Earth’s surface. This will result in increased skin cancer cases, cataracts, and even compromised immune systems. Additionally it is believed these UV rays increase the cases of melanoma, probably the most deadly skin cancer.
On a more indirect level, ozone depletion can reduce the yields of certain crops, akin to soybeans, reducing our food supply. Plus, increased ultraviolet radiation can also be believed to place phytoplankton — the bottom food source within the ocean — under stress. This will work its way up the food chain, impacting our food supply from the seas.
Ozone loss can also impact climate change, as ozone depletion within the lower stratosphere can create a cooling effect on the Earth. Nevertheless, ozone depletion shouldn’t be viewed as a big contributor to overall climate change or global warming.
How Many Years Until the Ozone Layer Is Gone?
Fortunately, the Montreal Protocol agreement has done its job and lowered the quantity of ozone-depleting emissions to a degree where ozone depletion is now ozone recovery. As a substitute of counting down the times until the ozone disappears, experts on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimate that stratospheric ozone levels will recuperate to pre-Eighties levels by the mid-Twenty first century. Additionally they predict the Antarctic ozone hole will close by the 2060s or 2070s.
This reversal doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods on stratospheric ozone depletion, though. We cannot turn into complacent within the recovery and have nations becoming lax on the Montreal Protocol rules. Plus, researchers must proceed to discover and help reduce recent threats to the stratospheric ozone layer, akin to dichloromethane emissions.
What Human Activities Cause Ozone Depletion?
In response to NOAA.gov, there are natural sources of bromine and chlorine, which may cause ozone depletion. Nevertheless, only 17% of the chlorine and 30% of the bromine within the air are from natural sources. The remainder are from human activities.
These activities include:
- Refrigerant evacuation from air conditioners and fridges directly into the air
- Foam blowing
- Use of aerosol propellants
- Cleansing metal and electrical components
- Use of certain pesticides
- Use of halons in fire extinguishers and as computer protection
- Use of chlorine gasses in pools and wastewater plants
- Burning fossil fuels
Can We Breathe Ozone?
While ozone is useful within the stratosphere, blocking harmful UV-A and UV-B radiation from the sun, it shouldn’t be something humans would breathe. Ozone overexposure may cause headaches, coughing, dry throat, shortness of breath, a heavy feeling within the chest, and fluid within the lungs, in line with the CDC. And high levels of exposure or consistent ozone exposure can result in more severe conditions, akin to asthma.
How Can You Help the Ozone Layer Get better?
The ozone layer is in recovery and on pace to make a full rebound to pre-Eighties conditions within the mid-Twenty first century, but you may still help speed it together with a couple of tweaks to your lifestyle.
Start by purchasing cooling appliances, akin to air conditioners and fridges, that don’t use HCFCs as refrigerants. You too can ensure any aerosol products you buy don’t use HCFCs or CFCs as their propellants.
For existing cooling appliances, ensure you’ve regular inspections and maintenance carried out. This helps spot and repair leaks before they emit too many harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. And in case your system requires service, ensure a licensed skilled properly evacuates any refrigerant. You too can have some existing cooling appliances retrofitted to newer, less harmful refrigerants.
The Ozone Is in Recovery, But Ozone Depletion Stays Critical
Ozone depletion is in reverse, and we’re now seeing a gentle recovery. In truth, experts anticipate a full ozone density recovery because of the widely adopted Montreal Protocol. Though the ozone layer is recovering, now’s not the time to ease up and begin releasing ODS, akin to HCFCs, HFCs, and CFCs into the atmosphere. As a substitute, we must maintain the trail of limiting these chemicals and proceed monitoring for brand spanking new ODS that require control or outright banning.
Ozone depletion can have little to do with climate change, but you may do your part to slow the impact of global warming by offsetting your carbon footprint. You possibly can achieve this by purchasing carbon offset credits from Terrapass. We provide many carbon removal products to cover various situations, including air travel and more.
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