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Monday, June 23, 2008

Thinning of ozone layer – Effective checking would reduce global warming and enhance standard of environment:

Thinning of ozone layer – Effective checking would reduce global warming and enhance standard of environment:

For nearly a billion years, ozone molecules in the atmosphere have protected life on Earth from the effects of ultraviolet rays. It is a form of oxygen (O2). We all know that, oxygen we need to live and breathe. Normal oxygen consists of two oxygen atoms. Ozone, however, consists of three oxygen atoms and has the chemical formula O3. Ozone is formed when an electric spark is passed through oxygen. Over millions of years the action of sunlight and specifically the action of ultra violet light or UV on oxygen has created a layer of ozone high up in the atmosphere. This ozone layer resides in the stratosphere and surrounds the entire Earth. The action of UV light on this layer both destroys and creates ozone, a constant process going on silently. Thus, this process of absorbing portion of UV light, protecting us from the harmful exposure. In fact, UV-B radiation (280- to 315- nanometer (nm) wavelength) from the Sun is partially absorbed in this ozone layer. As a result, the amount of UV-B reaching Earth’s surface is greatly reduced. UV-A (315- to 400-nm wavelength) and other solar radiation are not strongly absorbed by the ozone layer. Human exposure to UV-B increases the risk of skin cancer, cataracts, and a suppressed immune system. UV-B exposure can also damage terrestrial plant life, single cell organisms, and aquatic ecosystems. In the past 60 years or so human activities have contributed to the deterioration of the ozone layer to a great extent.

Mechanism of Ozone hole - The criticality of ozone layer can be understood from the fact that, only 10 or less of every million molecules of air is ozone. The majority of these ozone molecules reside in a layer between 10 and 40 kilometers above the surface of the Earth known as stratosphere. Each spring in the stratosphere over Antarctica (spring in the southern hemisphere is from September through November.), atmospheric ozone is rapidly destroyed by chemical processes. As winter arrives, a vortex of winds develops around the pole and isolates the polar stratosphere. When temperatures drop below -78°C, thin clouds form of ice, nitric acid, and sulfuric acid mixtures. Chemical reactions on the surfaces of ice crystals in the clouds release active forms of CFCs. Ozone depletion begins, and the ozone “hole” appears.

Over the course of two to three months, approximately 50% of the total column amount of ozone in the atmosphere disappears. At some levels, the losses approach 90%. This has come to be called the Antarctic ozone hole. In spring, temperatures begin to rise, the ice evaporates, and the ozone layer starts to recover.

Thus, ozone "hole" is a reduction in concentrations of ozone high above the earth in the stratosphere. The ozone hole is defined geographically as the area wherein the total ozone amount is less than 220 Dobson Units. The ozone hole has steadily grown in size and length of existence over the past two and half decades. Now, the size of ozone hole over Antarctica is estimated to be about 30 million sq. km.

It has been observed that, man-made chlorines, primarily chloroflourobcarbons (CFCs), contribute to the thinning of the ozone layer and allow larger quantities of harmful ultraviolet rays to reach the earth.

Effects of ozone layer depletion - UV-B (the higher energy UV radiation absorbed by ozone) are generally accepted to be a contributory factor to skin cancer. In addition, increased surface UV leads to increased troposphere ozone, which is a health risk to humans. The increased surface UV also represents an increase in the vitamin D synthetic capacity of the sunlight. The cancer preventive effects of vitamin D represent a possible beneficial effect of ozone depletion. In terms of health costs, the possible benefits of increased UV irradiance may outweigh the burden. In other words, a thinning of the ozone layer is the key factor in the greenhouse effect, and exposes life on Earth to excessive ultra violet radiation, which can increase skin cancer and cataracts, reduce immune-system responses,

As far as effect on plant is concerned, an increase of UV radiation would be expected to affect crops. A number of economically important species of plants, such as rice, depend on cyanbacteria residing on their roots for the retention of nitrogen. Cyanobacteria are sensitive to UV light and they would be affected by its increase. Thinning of the ozone layer also interfere with the photosynthetic process of plants,

Research has shown a widespread extinction of oceanic phytoplankton (a crucial source of food to aquatic life) is because of thinning of ozone layer. Researchers speculate that the extinction of plankton was caused by a significant weakening of the ozone layer at that time when the radiation from the supernova produced nitrogen oxides that catalyzed the destruction of ozone. Plankton is particularly susceptible to effects of UV light, and is vitally important to marine food webs.

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