Depletion of the Ozone Layer

Depletion of the Ozone Layer

The atmospheric ozone layer protects all living things from the harmful effects of the Sun. In recent years however, much damage has been caused to the ozone layer, causing it to decrease in size. The depletion of the ozone layer has and will continue to have many detrimental effects on all living things on this planet. A thinner layer will allow more of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation to reach the Earth’s surface. In particular, it will be the increase of UV-B rays which will have the most negative side effects. It will effect humans, plants, the Earth’s water and every other living creature. Studies have shown that for every five percent reduction in the concentration of ozone, the rate of skin cancer will rise by ten percent, due to increased exposure to the Sun’s ultraviolet rays (Environment Canada). Increased amounts of ultraviolet radiation increase the incidence of eye cataracts, which are patches of light blocking tissue which can lead to blindness (Ehrlich 120). It will also affect plants, which are sensitive to ultraviolet radiation. High levels will cause reduced stem and leaf growth in plants because photosynthetic activity is reduced or damaged. It also causes lower dry weight and affects plants’ ability to take in and use water (Ehrlich 120). This in turn reduces agricultural production and the food available to animals. Greater exposure to ultraviolet rays also affects the DNA of organisms. The radiation has the ability to reach the DNA and alter its structure. This can impair the organisms immune system, cause stunted growth, as well as increase the risk of cancer (Dolan 260). As well, micro-organisms in the soil which produce nutrients, can die from over-exposure to ultraviolet rays, resulting in soil infertility.

The Ozone Layer

The ozone layer shields the Earth and its inhabitants from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. It absorbs or blocks out 95% of high frequency ultraviolet radiation. The layer is comprised of a molecule called ozone, an electrically charged form of oxygen that is produced when sunlight reacts with chemicals in the air. The ozone molecules have the ability to filter the radiation, allowing only a small fraction of it to pass through (Gribbon 56). The layer is found in the Earth’s stratosphere, with its peak concentration about twenty-five kilometres above the Earth’s surface.

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