The ozone layer is located about 9.3-18.6 miles above the Earth’s surface and serves as a barrier that absorbs the majority of the ultraviolet rays emitted by the sun. By absorbing the damaging ultraviolet rays, the ozone layer prevents them from reaching Earth and protects us from the dangerous consequences of ultraviolet exposure. Ultraviolet rays are the leading cause of skin cancers, immune system suppression, and cataracts in humans. They also affect other species by causing reproductive health problems in crabs, frogs, and fish as well as harming plant metabolism. The ozone layer also helps maintain the atmosphere, so its depletion is thought to be a major culprit behind global warming.

How is Ozone Depleted?

The ozone layer is composed of the molecule O3, which is comprised of three oxygen atoms chemically bound together. It is formed when oxygen (O2) molecules in the air get chemically broken down by the energy from sunlight. The free oxygen atoms can then bind to the unbroken O2 molecules to form ozone (O3). However, ozone is very unstable and will break apart easily. Pollution is a major cause of this chemical breakage. Among the major culprits are products that use chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which is commonly found in aerosol sprays, packing material, blowing agents, and refrigerants. As CFCs rise into the atmosphere, they are broken down into chlorine molecules by the energy emitted through sunlight. The released chlorine breaks down the ozone layer by stealing the free oxygen atoms and thus preventing ozone from forming.

Ozone Scare of the 1980s

In the 1980s, scientists found that there was a hole in the ozone layer and that it was rapidly depleting. The ozone levels were measured to have decreased by more than 45% since the early 1980s. Since the ozone layer serves as a major protective component, it was very startling when scientists announced that the ozone layer was depleting at a speedy and steady pace. This panic caused the world to work together to solve the issue. Many countries signed the Montreal Protocol, which banned the use of CFCs.

How is the Ozone Layer Now?

Since the 1980s, we have been very proactive in preventing further depletion. Currently, the ozone hole is at its smallest since the 1980s. By banning ozone-depleting chemicals, there has been a 20% reduction in overall depletion since 2005. The success in recovering the ozone layer serves as a great example of how complex problems can be simplified into manageable components and ultimately solved if we all work together.


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