Ozone hole: Why Antarctic wildlife is being ‘sunburnt’

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Antarctic Wildlife Faces Increasing Exposure to Harmful UV Rays

In recent years, scientists have observed a concerning trend in Antarctica – the region’s wildlife is facing greater exposure to the Sun’s damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays. This is due to a persistent hole in the ozone layer, the protective barrier of gases in the upper atmosphere that shields the Earth from harmful UV radiation.

Ozone hole

The primary cause of this ozone depletion is believed to be the smoke and emissions from the unprecedented wildfires that have ravaged Australia in recent years, fueled by the effects of climate change. These findings are published in the journal Global Change Biology.

“When I tell people I work on the ozone hole, they often assume the problem has been solved,” said climate change biologist Professor Sharon Robinson. “But the reality is that the hole remains a significant issue, particularly for the unique and vulnerable ecosystems of Antarctica.”

The ozone hole was first discovered by scientists working in Antarctica in 1985, who measured the alarming levels of solar radiation reaching the continent. This depletion was traced back to a group of ozone-depleting chemicals, primarily chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were widely used as refrigerants. In response, the Montreal Protocol was established in 1987, leading to a global phase-out of these harmful substances.

Ozone hole

While the ozone layer is now showing signs of healing, a persistent hole continues to appear over Antarctica each spring, lasting well into the summer months. This is due to the unique chemical reactions that occur in the region’s extremely cold, high-altitude clouds, which break down ozone molecules.

The extended duration of the ozone hole means that Antarctic wildlife is now exposed to the Sun’s harmful UV-B rays for a longer period, putting them at greater risk. Researchers are particularly concerned about the potential for eye damage in animals, as well as the impact on the delicate Antarctic food web.

“The krill, which are the foundation of the Antarctic ecosystem, are known to move deeper into the ocean to avoid UV radiation,” explained Professor Robinson. “This could have cascading effects on the whales, seals, penguins, and other species that rely on krill as a food source.”

Antarctic plants, including mosses, have been found to produce their own natural “sunscreen” compounds to protect themselves from UV damage. However, this comes at a cost, as the plants must divert energy away from growth and other essential processes.

Ozone hole

The longevity of the ozone hole is also exacerbated by other factors, such as the continued release of particles from wildfires and volcanic eruptions, which fuel the ozone-depleting reactions. Even some proposed climate-cooling experiments, known as geoengineering, could potentially worsen the situation by introducing additional particles into the upper atmosphere.

“The best thing we can do to help protect Antarctica’s wildlife is to address the root cause of the problem – climate change,” said Professor Robinson. “By reducing our carbon emissions as quickly as possible, we can help limit the frequency and intensity of wildfires, and give the ozone layer a better chance to fully recover.

Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc, or its affiliates.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *