What is the ozone layer?
A layer of gases, called the atmosphere, surrounds the Earth. The atmosphere is made up of several layers, the lowest one being the troposphere. The next layer is called the stratosphere, and this is where ozone, a natural gas, is found. Each molecule of ozone contains 3 oxygen atoms. Itis blue in colour and has a strong odour compared to the oxygen we breathe on earth, which has 2 oxygen atoms and is colourless and odourless. The ozone layer plays a key role in protecting life on earth by absorbing the sun's radiation, especially the harmful UVB rays.
What is ozone depletion?
Ozone depletion is simply the thinning of the ozone layer in the stratosphere. It occurs because of the release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other ozone depleting substances (ODS) which are used in refrigerants and air conditioners, and also in foam and soaps. CFCs carried into the stratosphere breakdown due to the UVB rays from the sun causing them to release chlorine atoms, which react with ozone. One chlorine atom can break apart more than 1,00,000 ozone molecules. Other chemicals that damage the ozone layer include methyl bromide (used as a pesticide) and halons (used in fire extinguishers).
What is the ozone hole and where is it?
The first ozone hole was found above Antarctica in 1979, and ever since, every year, a hole the size of the entire USA has been appearing over the continent. A smaller hole seems to appear every year on the North Pole too, over the Arctic Circle. The layer is thinning all over the world, due to the release of CFCs in the stratosphere each year, and this means that the layer is depleting faster than it is being generated. This, in turn, increases the harmful effects that the sun's UV rays reaching directly on earth have.
What steps have been taken to reduce ozone depletion?
In 1987, several countries signed the Montreal Protocol while making the commitment to reduce the use of CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances. Since that time, the treaty has been amended to ban CFC production altogether post 1995 in the developed countries and later in developing countries too. It is believed that if the treaty is honoured then the ozone layer should be able to recover completely by 2050. Currently over 197 states and the European Union have signed the treaty making it one of the most successful international co-operation treaties.
What can we do in our day-to-day lives to help solve the problem of ozone depletion?
Small efforts can go a long way in reducing your carbon footprint. Here's a list of the things you can do easily without altering your lifestyle too much:
- Take public transport to work at least twice a week. Or you could carpool with your colleagues. Encourage your children to do the same (either using buses or car-pooling), when they go to school. It's easy on the environment and your pocket too!
- Start your own vegetable or flower garden. Sure you may not have enough space to have sprawling lawns, but potting a few plants, is a great way to start. Another green initiative you can take up is to help plant trees in your locality's garden.
- Use natural house-cleaning products instead of toxic chemical-based products. It may be a small step, but is perhaps the best way to impact a larger change. The lesser the demand for toxic products, the lesser will be the production!
- Go organic. This is important not only from a health perspective, but also because these products don't use harmful pesticides that pollute the environment. Visit the local farmers' markets and demand fresh organic produce. You are helping an entire ecosystem stay healthy this way!