Scientists believe they have identified a new hole in the Earth’s ozone layer, which would theoretically put the planet’s lives at higher risk for skin cancer.
A new study in the AIP Advances Journal said the new hole is larger than the confirmed hole over Antarctica, which is about 9 million square miles in size. The new hole lies between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.
The ozone layer sits about 15 miles above Earth’s surface and shields the planet from ultra-violet rays. Direct, unprotected sunlight over long periods of time cause cancer, cataracts, and other health issues.
University of Waterloo scientist and paper author Qing-Bin Lu said the location of the hole could pose a serious issue because of the amount of people who live in the tropics.
“The tropics constitute half the planet’s surface area and are home to about half the world’s population,” Lu said. “The existence of the tropical ozone hole may cause a great global concern. The depletion of the ozone layer can lead to increased ground-level UV radiation, which can increase risk of skin cancer and cataracts in humans, as well as weaken human immune systems, decrease agricultural productivity, and negatively affect sensitive aquatic organisms and ecosystems.
“The present discovery calls for further careful studies of ozone depletion, UV radiation change, increased cancer risks, and other negative effects on health and ecosystems in the tropical regions.”
A hole in the ozone layer can repair itself with adjusted environmental protocols
Researchers believe the hole opened about 40 years ago, but technology just recently identified its existence. However, some dissenters in the scientific community disagree with the tropical theory.
Dr. Paul Young of Lancaster University said atmospheric motion as a result of climate change explains the data; not a giant hole in the ozone layer.
“There is no ‘tropical ozone hole’, driven by the author’s proposed electrons from cosmic rays or otherwise,” he said. “The long term changes and year-to-year variability of the ozone layer in the tropical lower stratosphere are well understood to be the result of both human-driven processes and natural drivers. Since 2000, tropical stratospheric ozone levels have indeed still been decreasing, but this is due to changes in atmospheric motions expected with climate change.
“The author’s identification of a ‘tropical ozone hole’ is down to him looking at percentage changes in ozone, rather than absolute changes, with the latter being much more relevant for damaging UV reaching the surface. Interestingly, his article also does not draw from the vast literature that explores and documents ozone trends in all regions of the atmosphere,” Young added.
Regardless of the data’s origins, ozone depletion is a reversible phenomenon. The Antarctic hole, for example, is expected to close by 2060, according a 2018 UN study.