What If The Ozone Layer Fully Disappears?

By Victoria Simpson on May 16 2020 in Environment

A diagrammatic representation of the ozone layer. Image credit: Narin C/Shutterstock.com
A diagrammatic representation of the ozone layer. Image credit: Narin C/Shutterstock.com
  • The hole in the ozone is not a real hole, but a thinning of the ozone layer.
  • It is predicted the ozone layer will heal fully by 2050.
  • CFCs are chemicals that prevent ozone molecules from reforming in the Earth's stratosphere.

The ozone layer envelops our world. According to Lexico.com, it is “a layer in the earth's stratosphere at an altitude of about 10 km (6.2 miles) containing a high concentration of ozone, which absorbs most of the ultraviolet radiation reaching the earth from the sun.”

Obviously, this layer is a very useful thing. The problem is, sometimes, we do not have enough of this good type of ozone. In the 1980s, scientists discovered the ozone layer over the South Pole was thinning out considerably every spring. Since then, the size of the “hole” has waxed and waned, growing bigger some years and shrinking others. 

It is important to note that the “hole” does not actually present a complete absence of ozone around the Earth at any point, but a drastic thinning of the layer. 

What if the ozone layer disappeared completely? Here is a brief look at this scenario. 

Skin Cancer, Cataracts And Damaged Plants

The ozone layer is like a natural sunscreen protecting the Earth from UV rays. Image credit: Javi Indy/Shutterstock.com

In reaction to the discovery made by scientists in 1985 that the ozone over Antarctica was thinning due to human use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) found in things like aerosol hairspray, experts got together with governments to sign the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer in 1987. All 197 United Nations countries came together to promise to make a change. 

It worked. The ozone layer is still thinner over the South Pole at certain times during the year, but it has healed tremendously in that it has not gotten pronouncedly worse as predicted, allowing humanity and Earth to avoid the terrible outcomes that could have come with inaction. 

According to National Geographic and NASA, if we had not made changes and banned the use of CFCs, the ozone layer today would be hurting. This layer provides natural sunscreen for us and the Earth by blocking out UV radiation. Without, we would likely destroy life on Earth as we know it, and as NASA states, the sun would sterilize Earth’s surface. 

It is estimated by scientists that had governments not taken action to heal the ozone “hole,” then today, the world would be at a minimum 25% hotter. There would millions more cases of skin cancer worldwide, (about 280 million cases in the US), and skyrocketing skin cancer deaths, (at least 1.5 million deaths in the US). 

Cataracts would also be on the rise, and if the destruction continued on the same track, by the year 2065, DNA mutating UV radiation would have risen by 650%, resulting in humans getting a sunburn in Washington D.C. in only five minutes. 

Plants and ocean life would also suffer considerably. Many plants would “fry” or die out due to excess UV rays, potentially causing the food chain to collapse and natural ecosystems to almost literally melt away.  Life on Earth would eventually end. 

How The Ozone Layer Works

Chloroflurocarbons released through a variety of mediums react with the ozone in the ozone layer to degrade the layer. Image credit: justlearning.in

The ozone works by protecting us from UV rays coming to Earth from the sun. It does this by absorbing ultraviolet light. It is the second layer in the Earth’s atmosphere, forming one layer of the stratosphere, and it is so powerful that it absorbs 98% of UVA light. 

CFCs, the chemicals that have harmed the ozone layer, are found in many everyday items. They are in aerosol cans, plastics, and refrigerants, and people use them because they are cheap, they don’t tend to poison living things, and they also do not catch fire easily, adding a safety element to consumer products. 

According to National Geographic, ozone molecules in our stratosphere are constantly breaking down and reforming as part of a natural process. When CFCs are blown into the atmosphere, they make it hard for ozone molecules to reform, resulting in a thinner protective layer around the Earth. 

Thankfully, it is predicted that if we stay the course,  the ozone layer will have healed totally by 2050.

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