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The Recovery of the Ozone Layer

the ozone layer is now healing itself slowly/ Photo By Andrey Armyagov via Shutterstock

 

Many years have passed since humanity vowed to save the world from the depleting ozone levels. The depletion of the ozone levels was caused by increasing concentration of ozone-depleting chemicals like compounds with chlorine and/or fluorine attached to carbon and to lesser extent halon. These compounds are transported into the stratosphere by the winds after being emitted from the surface and once in the stratosphere, they would release halogen atoms through photodissociation, which catalyze the breakdown of ozone into oxygen.

Likewise, after the earlier news about the gradual depletion of the ozone layer, UN reports that the ozone layer is now healing itself slowly. In a report by Sky News, they mentioned that the hole over the Antarctic is healing and it is expected to fully heal by the 2060s. The ozone hole opened up over the continent due to the huge amount of cloud that forms over the coldest continent on Earth. This cloud helps the chlorofluorocarbon chemicals linger, causing the ozone layer to be eaten away.

However, The Guardian reported that the condition of the ozone layer in the southern hemisphere will be different to the northern hemisphere because its recovery will take more time. This year, the ozone hole over the South Pole peaked at nearly 24.8 million sq km. That’s about 16 percent smaller than the biggest hole recorded -- 29.6 million sq km in 2006.

How humans treated the ozone layer

The ozone layer or ozone shield is a region of Earth’s stratosphere that absorbs most of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. It contains high concentrations of ozone in relation to other parts of the atmosphere, although the still small amount in relation to other gases in the stratosphere. It is also responsible for protecting the life forms on Earth against the too much heat from the sun.

Despite the protection that the ozone layer provides for mankind, humans are still unaware that they are slowly destroying it. BBC mentioned on their online article that humans have successfully consumed too much the ozone layer by using harmful chemicals that are slowly deteriorating the Earth’s protective layer. Studies showed that in the late 1990s, the ozone layer was depleted by 10% and it increased by 3% per decade.

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), chemicals found mainly in spray aerosols heavily used by industrialized nations for much of the past 50 years, are the primary culprits in ozone layer breakdown. When CFCs reach the upper atmosphere, they are exposed to ultraviolet rays, which causes them to break down into substances that include chlorine. The chlorine reacts with the oxygen atoms in ozone and rips apart the ozone molecule.

CFCs are the primary culprits in ozone layer breakdown/ Photo By Gaak via Shutterstock

 

There’s still hope

In the 1980s, ozone in the atmosphere dropped like a rock at the initial onset of the affliction. The implementation of the 1987 Montreal Protocol widely considered a triumph of international cooperation that quickly phased out industrial CFCs and the ozone layer stabilized, though it was still at a depleted level.

There is still a long road to recovery for the ozone hole. The molecules that deplete ozone have very long lifespans, and the study scientists estimate it will still be decades before complete recovery. The hole itself may fluctuate each year in the healing process due to volcanic activity since volcanic eruptions emit sulfur dioxide, which can form aerosols in the stratosphere which allows more ozone depletion to happen.

The problem is not entirely solved since some parts of the ozone layer are not yet repaired, and scientists are concerned that some unregulated chemicals that contain chlorine could slow down the healing process.

On its own, the ozone hole has slightly shielded Antarctica from the much larger effects of global warming. It has heated up but not as much as it likely would without ozone depletion. A healed ozone layer could worsen man-made climate change for a little bit.

Saving the Ozone layer

Since the ozone layer absorbs ultraviolet light from the sun, its depletion increases surface ultraviolet levels, which could lead to damage, including an increase in skin cancer. The main public concern regarding the ozone hole has been the effects of increased surface UV radiation on human health. The increased percentage of ultraviolet radiation will also affect crops by affecting the growth of the plants through its physiological and developmental processes.

Humans can still participate in reducing the chemicals in the ozone layer. The reduction in ozone-depleting substances has also had a beneficial side-effect. Ozone-depleting substances are also very potent greenhouse gases, contributing to the phenomenon as other substances widely known to have a greenhouse effect like carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide.

Also, by simply patronizing eco-friendly products, people could help in reducing the waste that slowly kills the ozone layer. Choose organic products without the use of pesticides and that come from sources that respect the environment. Another suggestion is to leave cars in the garage and use public transportation in order to prevent the additional toxic gas emission from vehicles that primarily attributes to the chemicals that destroy the ozone layer.

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