- If ultraviolet light gets through when there is no ozone, all that lives on this planet is in danger: cancer for plants, animals, and humans is almost guaranteed.
- In the process of O3 creation, one thing that is created continuously is heat.
- Although the ozone layer can regenerate, we are destroying it faster than it has the time to recuperate.
The ozone layer is one of the most important parts of Earth’s atmosphere, as it protects us from the harmful ultraviolet light that comes from the Sun. It is located inside the stratosphere, the layer of atmosphere that goes up to 50 km above Earth’s surface.
1913 Groundbreaking Discovery
In 1913, the ozone layer was recognized for the first time by two French physicists, C. Fabry and H. Buisson. How did they figure this out? Well, they measured the radiation coming from the Sun. They realized that the light that reaches Earth is more or less constant in its temperature and the levels of UV radiation.
However, they detected that specific wavelengths (associated with the harmful UV light) were missing. This led them to the conclusion that some parts of our atmosphere absorb this type of light. Finally, they realized that the missing parts of light reaching the Earth were held by the ozone layer.
Shielding Our Planet
Why is the ozone layer so important? First of all, it contains a very high concentration (at least compared to other parts of Earth’s atmosphere) of ozone (O3). This layer is usually located between 15 and 35 km above the surface of Earth, which is when we talk in space-distance terms, very close to Earth. It is a good thing we have the ozone layer, because, without it, life on this planet would be vastly different from the one we are living now.
So, what precisely happens in the ozone layer? All UV light that approaches Earth has a hard time penetrating further beyond this layer, because it gets, well, absorbed. This process, where the ozone layer works its magic, is called the ‘’ozone-oxygen cycle.’’ Remember, ozone is a molecule that contains three atoms of oxygen, hence the O3 name. As you are reading through this, the process where ozone molecules are being created in the atmosphere is happening right now. In this constant cycle, the one thing that we benefit from the most is the fact that UV light disintegrates.
Oxygen To Ozone
So, the process of creation of the ozone layer is as follows: first, the UV light hits your typical oxygen atoms (O2). Because of this, the molecule is split into single oxygen atoms (this is known as atomic oxygen). Atomic oxygen then gets the chance to ‘’attach’’ to a regular molecule of oxygen and create a molecule of ozone, which is now O3. Although the ozone molecule is a relatively unstable compound, it can survive in the stratosphere for long enough to keep the ozone-oxygen cycle continually going.
If the ozone layer was not here, all of the harmful ultraviolet light would get to destroy life on the planet without any barricades stopping its power. Our ozone layer is capable of stopping between 97% and 99% of all medium-frequency UV light that the Sun emits.
If you are not yet familiar with this fact, from 1976, the world is aware which harmful byproducts from the industrial activity on Earth damage the ozone layer. The fight to eliminate certain chemicals (mostly chlorofluorocarbons) from industrial activities is still ongoing. If we obliterate the ozone layer, well, there is no easy way of putting this, we will probably all die from cancer.