The earth’s atmosphere is essential for the continuation of life on our planet.
Current events like the meteoroid hit in Russia reminds us of our atmosphere’s importance as we face not only the domestic threats of climate change, but extraterrestrial threats as well.
The atmosphere consists of five layers. Those are, from ground level outward, the troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, thermosphere, and the exosphere.
Of the atmosphere’s five layers, the stratosphere serves as one of the most crucial to life on earth due to the protective sheath it contains, known as the ozone layer. There are two regions in the earth’s atmosphere where levels of ozone can be found.
The lower ozone, found in the troposphere, is the main component of smog and poses multiple health risks due to its close proximity to humans. The upper ozone, on the other hand, is found a shade above in the stratosphere. This ozone layer is responsible for shielding us from ultraviolet rays, such as the light from the sun, as well as protecting the earth from extreme cold.
For over the last two decades, the upper ozone layer has been damaged by chemicals – including chlorofluorocarbons, methyl bromide, carbon tetrachloride, methyl chloroform, and halons – released into the earth’s atmosphere. These chemicals are used in refrigeration, air-conditioning, and industrial activity.
As the upper ozone levels weaken, the earth becomes vulnerable to damage from ultraviolet radiation. This leads to increased skin cancer risks, cataracts, and weakened immune systems.
Since documentation in the late 1970s, there appears to be an average decay of 4 percent in ozone levels each decade. The record lows were in 1992 and 1993, in part resulting from the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991, the effects of which were elevated by human activity.
In 1985, a large hole in Antarctica confirmed ozone degradation in the stratosphere. An ozone hole occurs when up to 66 percent of the total ozone layer is depleted for a period of time. Since the late 1970s, such a hole has appeared over Antarctica each austral spring. Thus far, the largest ozone hole in this area occurred on the 24th of September, 2006.
Current records show the Antarctic ozone hole improving, however. This may in part be due to the Montreal Protocol, which was entered into force on January 1, 1989. The protocol aims to decrease the production and consumption of harmful substances in an effort to stabilize ozone levels.
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