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New simulation shows consequences of a world without Earth's natural sunscreen
Date:3/19/2009

The year is 2065. Nearly two-thirds of Earth's ozone is gone -- not just over the poles, but everywhere. The infamous ozone hole over Antarctica, first discovered in the 1980s, is a year-round fixture, with a twin over the North Pole. The ultraviolet (UV) radiation falling on mid-latitude cities like Washington, D.C., is strong enough to cause sunburn in just five minutes. DNA-mutating UV radiation is up 650 percent, with likely harmful effects on plants, animals and human skin cancer rates.

Such is the world we would have inherited if 193 nations had not agreed to ban ozone-depleting substances, according to atmospheric chemists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, Bilthoven.

Led by Goddard scientist Paul Newman, the team simulated "what might have been" if chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and similar chemicals were not banned through the treaty known as the Montreal Protocol. The simulation used a comprehensive model that included atmospheric chemical effects, wind changes, and radiation changes. The analysis has been published online in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

"Ozone science and monitoring has improved over the past two decades, and we have moved to a phase where we need to be accountable," said Newman, who is co-chair of the United Nations Environment Programme's Scientific Assessment Panel to review the state of the ozone layer and the environmental impact of ozone regulation. "We are at the point where we have to ask: Were we right about ozone? Did the Montreal Protocol work? What kind of world was avoided by phasing out ozone-depleting substances?"

Ozone is Earth's natural sunscreen, absorbing and blocking most of the incoming UV radiation from the sun and protecting life from DNA-damaging radiation. The gas is naturally created and replenished by a photochemical reaction in the upper atmo
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Contact: Sarah DeWitt
sarah.l.dewitt@nasa.gov
301-286-0535
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Source:Eurekalert

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