How Does the Ozone Layer Affect Life on Earth?

Thinning of the ozone layer affects human health by causing increased incidences of skin cancer and premature skin aging, a higher prevalence of blindness and other eye conditions and a general weakening of the immune system. It also leads to accelerated degradation of common materials, such as wood and plastic.

Skin cancer and eye problems caused by exposure to UV radiation can also affect domestic animals, such as household pets. Increased UV radiation in the atmosphere is also harmful to many crops humans rely on for food, such as soybeans, cauliflower, cucumbers and peas. Because of the faster degradation of materials from UV radiation, humans must either replace items more frequently or invest in ways to protect them, either of which has a financial impact. UV radiation further poses a threat to marine plankton, which has the potential to disturb the entire oceanic ecosystem, as plankton are at the beginning of the aquatic food chain.

Ozone is a molecule consisting of three oxygen atoms that is blue in coloration and has a distinct odor. A layer of ozone exists in the stratosphere, the next-highest layer of Earth's atmosphere after the troposphere. This ozone absorbs a great deal of the hazardous ultraviolet radiation emitted by the sun, keeping it from reaching Earth's surface. As this ozone layer depletes, greater amounts of UV radiation are released into the atmosphere.