One of the primary functions of the ozone layer is to filter out the majority of solar UV radiation that can reach the Earth’s surface. Unfortunately, the ozone layer is currently under threat by man-made chemicals that remain in the atmosphere from their widespread use prior to being banned throughout most of the developed world in January 1996.
This has led to a large increase in harmful UV-B radiation that is reaching the Earth’s surface . The increased level of UV-B radiation on the Earth’s surface is causing a number of harmful effects on humanity, the environment, and on the Earth’s ecosystems and living creatures.
Human health impacts: Eyes, immune system, and skin
The increased level of UV-B radiation that is reaching the Earth’s surface is negatively impacting human health is several ways, including:
- Eye Health
Increased risk of damage to the lens, cornean, retina, and conjunctiva of the eyes. Increased risk of developing cataracts (lens clouding), blindness, and other eye diseases.
- Immune System
An overexposure to UV radiation can lead to a weakening of the immune system. Not only can a weakened immune system increase vulnerability to developing infections, but a weakened immune system also potentially leads to an increased vulnerability to skin cancer.
Increased risk of skin cancer, sunburns, and premature aging .
Impacts on plants
Although plants require sunlight for photosynthesis, an overexposure to solar UV-B radiation can be harmful for the plant life on our planet.
Such negative impacts include:
- A suppression of plant growth.
- Damage to plant form, development, growth, metabolism, and nutrient distribution, which can all influence plant competitive balance, herbivores, resistance to diseases, and biogeochemical cycles.
- An alteration of photosynthetic processes in seedlings.
- Internal changes in anatomical features and pigmentation.
- Losses of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the soil, which higher plants rely on for nitrogen sources .
Impacts on marine and aquatic ecosystems
Increased levels of UV-B radiation can lead to negative impacts on marine and aquatic ecosystems and their abundance of life.
- High levels of solar UV-B radiation decrease the orientation mechanisms and motility of phytoplankton (and therefore, their productivity and survival), which are the foundation of aquatic food webs, thereby impacting the entire marine ecosystem. Due to their important role in aquatic photosynthesizers, an overall global loss in phytoplankton populations would also reduce their capacity to serve as a global sink for atmospheric carbon emissions.
- Inflicting damage to the early developmental stages of fish, shrimp, crab, amphibians, and other animals, thereby negatively impacting their population levels and the population levels of those organisms that prey upon them.
- A loss of biodiversity in aquatic and marine ecosystems due to increased levels of UV-B radiation is likely to reduce yields for fisheries around the world .
Impacts on biogeochemical cycles
Increased levels of solar UV radiation have the potential to negatively impact terrestrial and aquatic biogeochemical cycles.
Such negative impacts would alter the capacity of sources and sinks of greenhouse gases and other gases that play important ecological roles on our planet, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and carbonyl sulfide (COS) .
Impacts on agriculture, forestry, and natural ecosystems
Various important agricultural crops such as wheat, rice, barley, oats, corn, soybeans, peas, tomatoes, cucumbers, cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots are vulnerable to increased levels of UV radiation.
Research has revealed that plant growth, especially of tree seedlings, is harmed by increased levels of UV radiation .
Impacts on animals
Overexposure to UV radiation in domestic animals can lead to eye and skin cancers, and can also threaten the developmental stage of marine animals such as young fish, shrimp larvae and crab larvae .
Impacts on materials
Increased levels of solar UV-B radiation accelerate the degradation of certain materials, such as wood, plastic, fabrics, and construction materials. ‘
This acceleration of the degradation of materials increases the need for their protection as well as how often they must be replaced or repaired. Such maintenance of materials would increase required costs .