Ozone changes in the Southern Hemisphere have had a significant impact on climate, natural ecosystems and food production over the past few decades, according to a United Nations report.
Two papers are being released as part of the United Nations Environment Programme Environmental Effects Assessment Panel report to address the impacts of ozone depletion and the associated increased ultraviolet-B radiation on the environment and human health.
Two co-authors are from the University of Wollongong: Professor Sharon Robinson, from the School of Biological Sciences and Associate Professor Stephen Wilson, from the School of Chemistry.
Lead author of the paper in the journal Global Change Biology, Professor Robinson, said many people think of sunburn and associated health risks when they hear about the ozone hole.
However, it has far more significant effects to our planet.
“The ozone hole modifies Southern Hemisphere summer weather, particularly wind and precipitation, with consequences for plant growth already reported in South America, New Zealand and Antarctica,” Professor Robinson said.
This occurs because the ozone hole pulls the polar jet stream further south and increases its
strength, changing the pattern and strength of winds around the Antarctic continent and causing shifts in the regions that get plenty of rain or snowfall and those that stay dry.
“Since water is vital for all living things, these changes are likely to have profound effects on agricultural and natural ecosystems across the Southern Hemisphere,” she said.
“Ecosystem impacts documented so far include changes to growth rates of South American and New Zealand trees, decreased growth of Antarctic mosses and changing biodiversity in Antarctic lakes.”
The effect of the ozone hole on weather patterns is most pronounced in summer and may also be
responsible for increased incidence of extreme events, including floods, drought, wildfires and associated costly environmental damage.
“Decades after the ozone hole was identified and action taken we are still discovering how profound its implications are,” she said.
Prompt action was taken in 1987 to ban the use of Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) which were eating away at the ozone layer.
The ozone layer is now predicted to recover by the middle of this century.
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