The ozone layer…you hear about it; you know it is important but how much do you really know about it? Sometimes it is difficult to understand something we cannot see or touch but believe me, the ozone layer is extremely important. Without it, life as we know it would not exist. International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer has been celebrated on the 16th of September since 1994. This year we celebrate 35 years of global ozone protection. Read on to find out what the ozone layer is, how it effects biodiversity and what is being done to protect it.
What is the Ozone Layer?
It is a thin layer in the earth’s atmosphere. Ozone is a colourless gas; it acts like a sponge and soaks up radiation from the sun. Although we do need a certain amount of radiation to survive if we got too much it would damage all living things on earth. The ozone layers traps ultraviolet radiation, this type of radiation can damage protective layers such as skin or even DNA molecules in animals and plants.
Molecules in the ozone layer are always being destroyed but they usually reform naturally.
However, the chemical Chlorofluorocarbon (CFCs) make it difficult for them to reform and this is what causes what’s known as ‘ozone holes. Although the name suggests they are holes this is not the case. It more like a thinning in the ozone layer. These chemicals were usually used in plastic products and refrigerators because they were cheap and did not catch fire easily. They are not usually harmful to living things but once they reach the stratosphere, they begin to break down the ozone layer. The substances that deplete the ozone can remain in the stratosphere for decades which means recovery can be a slow process.
Effects on Biodiversity
Ozone can have many negative effects on biodiversity. It can reduce photosynthesis causing slow plant growth or stop growth altogether. It can make plants more susceptible to disease, effects from pollutants, and damage from insects. This can then have a knock-on effect on the food web causing loss of species diversity, changes to habitat quality and even changes to the water cycle. Forestry, vegetation, and crops could also be affected creating lower yields.
What is Being Done?
In the 1970s scientists discovered the ozone was depleting. The EU launched numerous research programmes to understand the ozone depletion and after much research solutions were found. Policy actions and bans were put in place and after 30 years signs of recovery were detected. It was long and difficult road but it proved that with constant research and action, turning things around is possible. Since international research began 99% of ozone depleting chemicals have been cut out internationally. By 2060 ozone is expected to return to pre 1980s levels.
It is important at this stage to not become complacent and we must continue to monitor ozone depletion chemicals. In Ireland, it is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that is tasked with this and is also responsible for making sure we continue to implement the European Regulations including leak checking, reporting, import and export licencing.
Written by Mary Moroney