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How Does the Ozone Layer Work?

In 1985, the world was shocked to learn that human activities had depleted an area of the ozone layer so much, we began calling it the Ozone Hole. More than 30 years later, we’re still monitoring it to ensure it recovers and that the safety measures and restrictions put in place continue to work. So, why the panic? What does the ozone do that makes it so important to protect?

1. First, here’s what ozone is.
Ozone is also known as O3, indicating it is formed from three oxygen atoms. As far as molecules go, it’s pretty unstable. This means it will “break apart” easily, which is part of the reason why its depletion has been so significant. Ozone can be destroyed far quicker than it can be created naturally.

2. In order to be protected from UV rays, we need ozone.
Ozone’s main job is to filter the UV rays coming from the Sun. It protects us from short wave UV radiation, which is the kind that is the most damaging. The way it does this is by absorbing the UV radiation energy and then decomposing into one oxygen molecule (O2) and one oxygen atom (O).

3. There is such a thing as “bad” ozone.
Surprisingly, not all ozone is considered good. There’s the ozone that’s up in the stratosphere (the one we’ve been talking about), and then there’s ozone that’s closer to the ground. This is the “bad” ozone because it can be damaging to plants and animals. This ozone, however, is not naturally occuring. It is the result of vehicle and industrial nitrogen oxide gases reacting with carbon-compounds that are volatile. Breathe in this ozone for more than 8 hours, and your lungs aren’t going to be very happy.



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