Ozone Layer Depletion: What Are the Causes, Effects & Solutions?

ozone layer depletion

Did you know that without the ozone layer we could develop skin disease and have weakened immune systems? Yes, really!

The ozone layer, which can potentially absorb about 97-99% of the harmful ultraviolet radiation coming from the sun, is the reason why we’re all not suffering from one skin disease or another. Unfortunately, our use of Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) found in solvents, spray aerosols, refrigerators, and air-conditioners, as well as increased release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, is causing ozone layer depletion at a very high rate.

If we don’t make a joint effort to stop the depletion of the ozone layer we might soon suffer some very serious consequences.

But where do we even start? We explain the depletion of the ozone layer, its causes, and potential solutions.

What is Ozone Layer Depletion and Why is it a Big Problem?

The depletion of the ozone layer is the gradual thinning of the Earth’s ozone layer in the upper atmosphere. The thinning happens when industries and other human activities release chemical compounds containing gaseous chlorine or bromine.

Chlorine and bromine atoms destroy ozone molecules when they come into contact with ozone in the stratosphere. One chlorine atom can destroy over 100,000 ozone molecules before it’s removed from the stratosphere.

Read more: Facts About the Ozone Layer

Ozone molecules in the stratosphere are produced constantly and destroyed by different types of UV radiation from the sun. Typically, the production and destruction are balanced, so the amount of ozone in the stratosphere at any given time is stable.

However, scientists discovered that chemicals react with UV radiation in the stratosphere, causing them to break apart and release chlorine or bromine atoms. These atoms, in turn, destroy the ozone molecules faster than they’re naturally produced.

Most of the depletion is pronounced in the polar regions, especially over Antarctica.

What Causes the Depletion of the Ozone Layer?

Major ozone layer depletion causes include:

  • Nitrogenous compounds: Nitrogenous compounds such as Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), Nitrogen oxide (NO), and Nitrous oxide (N2O) are big air polluters. These greenhouse gases are highly responsible for the depletion of the ozone layer.
  • Chlorofluorocarbons: Chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs are a massive cause of ozone layer depletion. Solvents, spray aerosols, refrigerators, air-conditioners, etc., release these CFCs. When CFCs are released into the atmosphere, their molecules get to the stratosphere, where the ultraviolet radiations break them down, releasing chlorine atoms. These atoms then react with ozone and destroy it.
  • Unregulated rocket launches: According to research, the unregulated launching of rockets results in much more depletion of the ozone layer than the CFCs do. If not controlled, it might cause a considerable loss of the ozone layer by 2050.
  • Natural causes: Certain natural processes such as Sun-spots, stratospheric winds, and volcanic eruptions also deplete the ozone layer. Natural causes, however, don’t cause more than 1-2% of the depletion.

What are the Effects of Ozone Layer Depletion?

Ozone layer depletion effects can be severe on human beings, animals, and the environment. These are some of the ways the depletion is affecting the planet and its inhabitants:

Effects of Ozone Layer Depletion on Human Health

The more the ozone layer is depleted, the higher the amount of UVB rays that reach the Earth’s surface. This means that we (humans) are at a higher risk of being exposed to this type of ultraviolet radiation. This might result in serious health issues such as skin diseases, cancer, sunburns, cataract, rapid aging, and a weak immune system.

Ozone Layer Depletion Effects on Animals

Radiation is not just harmful to human beings, but animals too. When animals are directly exposed to ultraviolet radiation, they may suffer from skin and eye cancer. Marine life is also at risk. Planktons are greatly affected by exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays. When planktons die, other organisms that depend on them for survival are also affected.

How Does Ozone Layer Depletion Affect the Environment?

UVB radiation is also harmful to plants and affects their developmental processes. UVB radiation affects how nutrients are distributed within the plant, the timing of developmental phases, and secondary metabolism. Intense UV rays may also lead to minimal growth, flowering, and photosynthesis in plants. UV rays have also been destroying our forests.

Consequences of Ozone Layer Depletion (if We Don’t Take Action)

If we don’t take quick action to reduce the depletion, ozone layer depletion consequences will continue to magnify.

Ozone is responsible for most of the absorption of UVB radiation. If the ozone layer continues to thin, the amount of UVB radiation that penetrates through the ozone layer could increase exponentially.

The more UVB penetrates through the ozone layer, the higher the risk of humans and animals suffering from basal and squamous cell carcinomas (most common forms of skin cancer in humans), malignant melanoma (much less common but far more dangerous), and eye cataracts.

Ozone Layer Depletion Solutions: What You Can Do to Reduce it

The depletion of the ozone layer is a serious issue that requires a global solution. Many governments worldwide have launched various programs to prevent the depletion of the ozone layer.

What can you and I do at an individual level to help?

Following are some ozone layer depletion solutions we can adopt:

Change your habits

As a start, we have to be willing to make a few changes in our lives that consciously take care of our planet. Some of the changes include:

  • Stop using ozone-depleting substances (ODS) such as CFCs: If possible, replace old refrigerators and air conditioners that use CFSs with newer environmentally-friendly models. Also, replace halon-based fire extinguishers.
  • Minimize the use of vehicles: Vehicles emit a large number of greenhouse gases that lead to global warming and ozone depletion. Therefore, walk, cycle, carpool, or use public transportation whenever possible.
  • Use eco-friendly cleaning products: Most cleaning products have chlorine and bromine releasing chemicals that find their way into the atmosphere. It would greatly help if you substituted such products with natural cleaning products to protect the environment.

Read more about sustainable living

Call for the prohibition of the use of nitrous oxide

Use your voice to petition governments and local leaders to take action and prohibit the use of harmful nitrous oxide that significantly affects the ozone layer.

Make people around you aware of the harmful effects of nitrous oxide and the products emitting it to minimize its use at the individual level.

Ozone layer depletion may seem inconsequential right now, but the more we ignore it, the worse it will get, and the more harmful its effects will be. Being conscious of our actions and committing to living an environmentally friendly life could go a long way to prevent further depletion of the ozone layer.

Are you interested in living an eco-conscious lifestyle? Check out this guide: How to Be More Eco-Friendly.

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  Stella - Writer

Stella is a writer and mother from Thika, Kenya.

Her love for nature and the beautiful Kenyan outdoors has inspired Stella to consciously make an effort to lead a more sustainable, eco-friendly lifestyle.