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Ozone Hole Shrinking

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Posted 03/10/13

Ozone Hole Shrinking, Says Scientist

Research shows the depleted ozone layer – in part responsible for a 14 per cent jump in melanoma over the last decade – is healing itself. But skin cancer experts say the sun’s fierce rays are still dangerous. The message remains the same: stay out of the sun, but if you’re in the sun, slip, slop, slap and wrap. It’s four words, but it can save your life.

New Zealand’s ozone hole is shrinking for the first time in 30 years. The depleted ozone above Antartica is healing itself, 25 years after an international ban on aerosols blamed for its rapid decline.

Research by a University of Canterbury atmospheric scientist has found that the hole is making a slow recovery, sooner than expected. “Ozone levels above Antarctica are projected to return to 1980 levels – previous to the ozone hole – after 2050,” said Dr Adrian McDonald.

But the research, backed by Antarctica New Zealand, has been greeted with caution by skin cancer experts. “The sun rays here are so fierce and if the ozone hole is depleting, we’re not seeing the results yet…Melanoma killed almost one New Zealander a day and the rate increased every year,” said the interim chief executive of the Melanoma Foundation, Kylie Williams. “The message remains the same: stay out of the sun, but if you’re in the sun, slip, slop, slap and wrap. It’s four words, but it can save your life.”

The Cancer Society welcomed news of a returning ozone layer as “a great step in the right direction”. But health promotion manager Jan Pearson added: “We won’t be changing our advice that people need to protect their skin against cancer.”


Ozone layer

What is the ozone layer?
An area of naturally occurring gas in the stratosphere, 15-35km above Earth, that protects humans and other organisms by filtering solar ultraviolet (UV) B radiation.

Why is it important for New Zealand?
Although it is present in only small amounts in the Earth’s atmosphere, it is vital to human life and the ecosystem. Its decline is largely blamed for New Zealand having the highest melanoma rate in the world, with about 300 deaths a year.

What started its decline?
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) – chemicals used in spray aerosols, foam, soap and refrigeration – were identified in the 1970s as causing ozone layer breakdown. The problem is particularly bad above the Antarctic where low temperatures speed up the conversion of CFCs to chlorine which reacts with UV rays and destroys the ozone.

Why has it started healing itself?
The international community banned CFCs in 1987 by signing the landmark Montreal Protocol. It is widely regarded as one of the most successful environment protection agreements in the world.

Adapted from New Zealand Herald.