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UV exposure has increased over the last 30 years, but stabilized since the mid-1990s
Date:3/16/2010

a city that's about the same distance from the equator as Little Rock, Ark. At Washington, D.C.'s latitude about 35 degrees north UV has increased by about 9 percent since 1979.

The southern hemisphere tends to have more UV exposure because of the ozone hole, a seasonal depletion of the ozone layer centered on the South Pole. There are also fewer particles of air pollution which help block UV due to the comparatively small numbers of people who live in the southern hemisphere.

Despite the overall increases, there are clear signs that ultraviolet radiation levels are on the verge of falling. Herman's analysis, which is in agreement with a World Meteorological Report published in recent years, shows that decreases in ozone and corresponding increases in UV irradiance leveled off in the mid-nineties.

The Many Sides of Radiation

Shorter ultraviolet wavelengths of light contain more energy than the infrared or visible portions of sunlight that reach Earth's surface. Because of this, UV photons can break atmospheric chemical bonds and cause complex health effects.

Longer wavelengths (from 320 to 400 nanometers) called UV-A cause sunburn and cataracts. Yet, UV-A can also improve health by spurring the production of Vitamin D, a substance that's critical for calcium absorption in bones and that helps stave off a variety of chronic diseases.

UV-B, which has slightly shorter wavelengths (from 320 to 290 nanometers), damages DNA by tangling and distorting its ladder-like structure, causing a range of health problems such as skin cancer and diseases affecting the immune system.

As part of his study, Herman developed a mathematical technique to quantify the biological impacts of UV exposure. He examined and calculated how changing levels of ozone and ultraviolet irradiance affect life. For Greenbelt, Md., for example, he calculated that a 7 percent increase in UV yielded a 4.4 percent increase in the damage
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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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