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The Alphabet Series 2000: O is for Ozone

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
June 28, 2000


"The Hole in the Ozone is directly related to the hole in your head" — Yawn Mower

Once upon a time it was safe to bask in the sun. For centuries the sunshine was something to welcome. Pagan cultures worshipped the sun as the life-giver it is, and celebrated it's passing throughout the year. Now, with vanity becoming the religion of choice, sun worship has morphed into suicidal self worship.

In humans, there appears to be a link between high intensity exposures to Ultra Violet rays and eventual appearance of melanoma, often fatal. Another effect of long-term sun exposure is the premature aging of the skin. Even careful tanning kills skin cells, damages DNA and causes permanent changes in skin connective tissue. There is no such thing as a safe tan.

Life on Earth has evolved beneath a protective layer of stratospheric ozone. I'm not sure how this was done, nor do I care. Considering that stratospheric ozone keeps 95-99% of the suns ultraviolet radiation from striking the earth, it's a good thing it's there, otherwise we would all be toast. According to a growing legion of scientists we are only beginning to feel the heat. Can you say dinosaur?

For those of you who have been vacationing on another planet, human activity is responsible for a reduction in the ozone layer. Often referred to as a "hole" ozone thinning is posed to become the major threat to humanity in the next century. What American children is not familiar with terms such global warming and Greenhouse effect? Some see such environmental education as nothing more than green propaganda, I see it as preparing children for the future their parents and grandparents have left for them.

The main culprit in the sun's ominous turn is Stratospheric ozone depletion, the main contributor of which are human created chlorofluorocarbons. CFCs are chemicals used in manufacturing plastic foam containers and other consumer products, and to clean the insides of computers. CFC's , this time in the form of Freon, is used in air-conditioners and refrigerators. Is it just me, or does anyone else see the irony in the fact that modern conveniences meant to cool things down are actually warming things up?

Another factor? The ever present automobile not only helps to erase the earth's protective ozone layer, automobiles are also the main cause of ground level ozone. Diminished air quality resulting from surface ozone accumulation will leave most of use struggling for breath as we try to escape the sun. Ozone is the prime ingredient of smog. Though it occurs naturally in the stratosphere to provide a protective layer around the earth, at ground-level it is the prime ingredient of smog. Ground-level ozone is created when nitrogen oxide emissions react with oxygen in the air. Damage to lung tissue may be caused by repeated exposures to ozone resulting in a reduced quality of life. Most at risk are individuals who are outdoors and moderately exercising during the summer months. This includes construction workers and other outdoor workers.

Ground-level ozone also interferes with the ability of plants to produce and store food, compromising growth, reproduction and plant health. By weakening vegetation, ozone makes plants more susceptible to disease, pests, and environmental stresses. The effects on long-lived species such as trees, added up over many years, could mean the demise of entire forests and their ecosystems. Some scientists believe that the disappearance of frogs worldwide could be a result UV exposure.

Ecological functions, such as water movement, mineral nutrient cycling, and habitats for various animal and plant species, are also impacted by the thinning of the stratospheric ozone layer. Considering Phytoplankton productivity is limited to the ocean's euphotic zone, which there is sufficient sunlight, and that genetically significant doses of solar radiation could penetrate as far as 9 feet into ocean water, it is safe to say the fate of phytoplankton, the foundation of the aquatic food chain, does not look good. Solar radiation has also been found to cause damage to early developmental stages of fish, shrimp, crab, amphibians and other animals. The most severe effects being decreased reproductive capacity.

In fact, the outlook for all of us is rather bleak. Global warming is real, and as ocean levels continue to rise, due to the melting of the polar ice caps, we will begin to truly understand the consequences of squandering our atmospheric inheritance.

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