While it's impossible to know how many skin cancer cases may be related to ozone depletion over the U.S., the link between ozone loss and increased incidence of the disease has been extensively studied, Anderson said.
"There has been a major effort by the medical community to define the relationship between decreases in ozone and the subsequent increases in skin cancer," he said. "The answer is quite clear if you multiply the fractional decrease in ozone protection by about three, you get the increase in skin cancer incidence. There are 1 million new skin cancer cases in the U.S. annually it's the most common form of cancer, and it's one that's increasing in spite of all the medical research devoted to it."
But it isn't only humans who have to worry about the effects of increased UV radiation.
Many crops, particularly staple crops grown for human consumption such as wheat, soybeans and corn could suffer damage to their DNA, Anderson said.
Ironically, Anderson said, the discovery that climate change might be driving ozone loss happened virtually by accident.
Though they had worked since the mid-1980s to investigate ozone depletion in the Arctic and Antarctic, by the early-2000s, Anderson's team had turned their attention to climate studies. In particular, they were working to understand how the convective clouds updrafts that cause storms to build high into the sky contribute to the creation of cirrus clouds.
"It was in the process of looking at that mechanism that we came to this unexpected observation that the convective clouds in these storm systems over the U.S. are reaching far deeper into the stratosphere that we ever expected," Anderson said.
|Contact: Peter Reuell|