The ozone layer is an important region in the Earth’s stratosphere. It protects the planet’s living creatures from the sun’s harmful ultra-violet (UV) radiation. Ozone depletion began with the wide use of aerosol sprays containing chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). These were later banned, and scientists are now seeing the positive effects of these regulatory measures. The ozone is recovering, but there are still some threats to its complete restoration.
The Importance of the Ozone Layer
The ozone layer absorbs most of the UV rays that come from the Sun. Ozone itself is a gas formed when an oxygen gas molecule combines with an extra oxygen atom to form ozone or O3. Its function is vital to life on Earth because of the dangers of UV radiation.
UV radiation from the Sun can harm living things in a number of ways. Too much exposure can lead to sunburn, cataracts, genetic damage, and problems with the immune system. Radiation is also one of the main causes of skin cancer. There are different types of UV rays that are emitted from the sun, and the ozone layer is able to absorb most of the most harmful kind.
The importance of the ozone layer means that everything must be done to safeguard it. Scientists noticed that this important layer was becoming depleted in the 1980s. The primary agents that lead to this depletion are free radicals catalysts such as nitric oxide, nitrous oxide, hydroxyl, as well as chlorine and bromine in their atomic forms. Small quantities of these come from natural sources and processes, but the biggest culprit was found to be man-made products that contain CFCs.
Between the late 1970s and the 1990s, nations around the world started to ban these CFCs. The primary use of these compounds was in aerosol sprays. The move started in many developed countries and expanded to developing nations as well. Aerosol sprays containing CFCs were banned from being used, sold, and produced. As of now, all the world’s 197 countries have signed the treaty agreeing to these terms.
It took time for countries and the aerosol industry to adapt to the changes. Alternatives needed to be found to use in aerosols. At the time the regulations started to be put in place, it was not completely clear whether the damage already done to the ozone layer could be reversed. It was all hands on deck to stop any further damage and protect the health and wellbeing of the human race.
The Ozone’s Healing Process
Since the regulatory measures were put in place, scientists have been observing and studying the effects of these changes on the ozone layer. The biggest hole that had developed in the ozone was in the Antarctica region. In the last couple of years, reports coming from these observations and studies are very, very promising.
The ozone layer is healing itself. The ozone gas that was depleted is slowly being replenished. It is predicted that full restoration could happen by 2060, or even by 2030 if the current rates of ozone layer thickening are sustained. The current rate of recovery is 1-3% every decade.
The main threat that remains to the ozone layer is the illegal production, sale, and use of products that contain or produce CFCs. Despite a global agreement making such activities illegal, this has not completely eliminated this kind of underground trade. Global bodies continue to monitor emissions so that they can quickly detect any such violations.
The slow but steady recovery of the ozone layer goes to show what the human race can accomplish when everyone works together. This has an impact on the health of the Earth’s current and future inhabitants as well as on global warming.