The Ozone Layer – Sameen Ahmed

What is the Ozone layer?

Ultraviolet or UV rays are harmful sun rays which can increase the risk of skin cancer, cataract and harm the immune system. They can also damage single cell organisms, plants and aquatic animals. Life on Earth is protected from the UV rays by an invisible, pale blue, protective shield called the Ozone layer. Some oxygen molecules that contain two atoms absorb energy from the sun’s UV rays and split to form a single oxygen atom. These single atoms mix with the remaining oxygen molecules with two atoms. The molecules with three oxygen atoms all form the Ozone layer. This layer of gas between the sun and Earth is only about 3-5 millimetres in thickness, and yet, it has been protecting life on our planet from the harmful radiation emitting from the sun for billions of years.

Does the Ozone layer contain a hole?In the 1970s, scientists discovered that this thin layer of gas is slowly depleting and evidence revealed that certain man-made chemicals were responsible for it: chemicals such a chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and nitrogen oxide being produced by a wide range of industrial and consumer appliances. CFC’s are a group of chemically similar gases used in refrigeration systems, air conditioners, aerosols, solvents and in the production of some types of packaging. Nitrogen oxides are a product of fuel burning for example, from aircraft exhausts.The Ozone hole is not literally a hole, but an area where the man-made gases have gone up into the stratosphere and destroyed some of the oxygen molecules resulting in thinning of the Ozone layer.

How is the Ozone hole healing?
1. With increasing awareness of the harmful effects of CFC and other chemicals, the production and consumption of such substances have decreased to a significant level. In 1987, the international agreement, Montreal Protocol was introduced which bans the production of the harmful chemicals. As a result, the Ozone layer began to recover in the 2000 s.
2. Another reason for the Ozone hole’s healing could be due to lock down in the outbreak of Corona virus. With people staying home, there are a lot less transport vehicles on the roads, reducing pollution. According to BBC, researchers in New York said early studies have seen carbon monoxide, mainly produced by cars, decrease sharply by nearly 50 per cent compared with 2019. Flights are being cancelled, so we also have less production of nitrogen oxide.Industries and factories are being shut down, resulting in fewer CFC molecules being released into the atmosphere. Therefore, most major sources of Ozone-harming gases have been closed down.

What can we do to help?
One important thing we can all do is help reduce the production of those chemicals that cause the destruction of the Ozone layer, like CFC’s and nitrogen oxides and spread awareness about its harmful effects. There isn’t much we can do about the CFC’s that were released already, CFC molecules are highly stable, and can last for up to a 100 years and unfortunately, this gives them plenty of time to find their way to the Ozone layer. The other essential things we can do are to encourage our family and friends to make sure their refrigerators and air conditioners do not have CFC s. We should also make sure that if we have refrigerators or air conditioners that are more than 20 years old, we should replace them with new ones. We should try to use the Ozone-harming gases as less as possible, for example, by switching to public transport instead of using personal cars and by making sure that industries

which use such gases release them sensibly and in a way which does not harm the environment and the Ozone layer.

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