In 1987, the Montreal Protocol aimed for eliminating the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) due to the destruction the chemicals were causing to the environment and ozone layer. The substances which contained CFCs, however, were quite prolific at the time and included refrigerators, fire extinguishers and spray cans. Even decades later, the chemicals are still found in the atmosphere.
When CFCs are exposed to ultraviolet radiation they subsequently cause the release of chlorine atoms which work to destroy ozone molecules. Such holes can lead to numerous health issues for humans and non-humans alike, including skin cancer and cataracts.
Ozone loss, often in the form of ozone holes, have become common occurrences. In Antarctica, ozone holes occur each year. The same cannot be said for the Arctic, where the presence of ozone depletion varies. However, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced in 2011 that the ozone depletion in the Arctic was so great that it could be considered an ozone hole for the first time in history.
Despite the Montreal Protocol being signed in 1987, damage to the ozone continues as CFCs can remain in the atmosphere for approximately fifty years prior to ever encountering the ozone layer. But, due to global warming and other major environmental issues, many scientists believe the ozone depletion issue is being left behind when it is still an ongoing problem.
That was one of the sentiments included in a recent study of the affects of UVB radiation on marine life published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography. The researchers amassed data from previous studies in order to establish how UVB radiation is affecting marine organisms, including coral and algae. The team determined that the significant increase in UVB radiation due to ozone depletion has caused a subsequent increase in marine organism deaths.
UVB was found to do the most harm to species lower on the food chain, an issue which could become great in the future. Organisms such as corals, algae, crustaceans, krill and fish eggs were the most affected by UVB according to the study. The team noted that krill decreased by sixty times between 1970 and 2003 in the Southern Ocean, coinciding with significant increases in UVB radiation. Krill is considered one of the major foundations of the sea food web.
UVB has been found to cause a number of issues with marine species aside from death. UVB harms nutrient absorption, photosynthesis, reproduction and even growth. The team determined that loss of life currently attributed to global warming or acidification may have ties to UVB radiation, although the cause of death is difficult to separate in these situations.
The lead author of the study, Dr. Moira Llabres of Chile, stated: “The decline in corals in the tropics and subtropics is consistent with the increased levels of UVB, so the increase of the water temperatures may not be the sole cause of this decline.”
The researchers pushed for greater emphasis on ozone recovery and UVB studies, especially as the presence of the radiation appears to affect the bottom of the food chain.