That Hole In The Ozone
Scientists report the Antarctic ozone hole in the stratosphere is so massive this season it threatens
the health of people living in the populated regions of South America, Australia and New Zealand.
The size of the hole, produced by high Antarctic winds each spring, dashes all thoughts that the
protective layer of ozone was beginning to recover from its destruction by man-made chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons.
Early observations show that the hole, which appears every southern spring, is back with a vengeance.
Why should this be so alarming?
Ozone, a poisonous gas formed by the action of sunlight and oxygen, is troublesome when it gets
mixed with the air we breathe, but when it collects in the stratosphere it acts as a natural sunblock.
It is estimated that even a one percent reduction in the amount of ozone in the upper atmosphere
can cause a measurable increase in the ultraviolet radiation that reaches the Earth's surface. If there is no ozone at all,
as people are experiencing in the southern most parts of the planet, the levels of solar radiation can be deadly.
Without the ozone layer, all living things must be under the cover of buildings, protective suits
or in the sea. Extreme radiation burns and skin cancers await those who venture out into the sunlight.
The ozone needed to shield Earth from lethal levels of ultraviolet radiation is believed to have
been created about a billion years ago by blue-green algae, early aquatic organisms that started using energy from the sun
in a process called photosynthesis. It took thousands of years before enough oxygen was present to react with the solar energy
and generate that protective layer of ozone.
Before this happened, all living organisms lived under the sea. Ozone played a significant role
in the evolution of life on Earth, and allows life as we presently know it to exist.
The ozone layer was always part of that natural and delicate balance of nature that allowed all
living things to exist on our planet. That is, until humans came along and started inventing things that were destructive
While a lot of the chemicals and toxic smoke we produced should have been easy to detect, nobody
ever thought those chlorofluorocarbons that made aerosol cans, refrigerators and air conditioners work were causing so much
trouble in the stratosphere. They are non-toxic to us, but they literally destroy the ozone.
Once it was discovered, the world science organizations were so alarmed they sounded an alarm that
brought about an international agreement known as the Montreal Protocol, in which manufacturers stopped producing known ozone
destroying chemicals. That was in 1994.
So why isn't the ozone layer repairing itself?
It took millions of years for the ozone to build to a level where it made life on Earth possible.
Also, those chlorofluorocarbons we produced are long-lived. It takes them years to drift up into the stratosphere where they
do their dirty work.
The theory by some hopeful scientists is that the last chlorofluorocarbons are just now reaching
the upper layers of the atmosphere and that the worst may be over. But that analysis is based on a trust that there really
has been a decline in the production of ozone depleting chemicals on the planet.
There is a lust for money that might have thrown a monkey wrench into this whole process.