Sunday, Jun 02, 2024 08:30 [IST]

Last Update: Sunday, Jun 02, 2024 03:00 [IST]

Ozone Hole: Penguins Are Experiencing Severe Sunburn In Antarctica


Antarctica is the coldest continent on Earth. The average temperature in the interior throughout the year is about -57°C, with the minimum temperature being -90°C during the winter season. Although the coast is warmer and temperatures can reach a maximum of between -2°C and 8°C during the summer.

Penguins are the natural attractions in Antarctica. Seeing penguins roaming around the ice blocks and enjoying the sunshine is one of the most familiar scenes in Antarctica!

Recent research study says the seals and penguins living in the Antarctica are at greater risk of getting sunburnt after being exposed to cancer-causing ultraviolet rays from the Sun due to a hole in the ozone layer that acts as a protective barrier in Earth's upper atmosphere. The hole usually exists over the Antarctic for a few months, but researchers have warned that it is lingering over the continent for more than a year. The study has been published in the journal "Global Change Biology".

University of Wollongong climate change biologist Prof Sharon Robinson expressed concern about the continuation of the hole in the protective layer of ozone.

The ozone hole is a gap in the ozone layer, a layer in Earth's stratosphere containing a high concentration of ozone (O3), an odourless, colourless gas. Researchers say the hole is lasting longer. Maps of ozone area for September to December show how the ozone hole disappeared early in November 2019 but in 2020 extended into December.

The ozone hole is positioned above Antarctica. It fluctuates in size on regular basis but peaks in October each year.

As of September 16, 2023, the ozone hole was 10.3 million sq miles (26 million sq km).

This is because levels of ozone-depleting substances like chlorine and bromine remain high enough to produce significant ozone loss. But the new study, published in "Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics", found it is likely not recovering at latitudes between 60°N and 60°S (London is at 51°N).

The cause is not certain but the researchers believe it is possible climate change is altering the pattern of atmospheric circulation - causing more ozone to be carried away from the tropics.

They say another possibility is that very short-lived substances (VSLS's), which contain chlorine and bromine, could be destroying ozone in the lower stratosphere. VSLS's include chemicals used as solvents, paint strippers, and as degreasing agents.

The new study was led by Sharon Robinson, climate change biologist and Antarctic researcher at the University of Wollongong in Australia. The researchers referred to NASA data from satellite instruments that monitor the ozone layer while compiling evidence on the effect of UV on various species.

'If ozone holes last longer, summer-breeding animals around Antarctica’s vast coastline will be exposed to high levels of reflected UV radiation,' Robinson and his research group reported.

'More UV can get through, and ice and snow is highly reflective, bouncing these rays around.' The ozone hole doesn't stay the same size throughout the year, in fact, it opens up and closes annually as the seasons and temperatures change.

Fortunately, this is a period when most Antarctic animals and plants are protected by snow and sea ice cover.  But the experts found that the hole is lasting longer even into summer when this cover has melted, putting them at risk. What makes this worse is that December peak breeding season for many Antarctic animals.

Adult penguins and seals have protective feathers and fur, but their young that are yet to grow this covering may be more vulnerable.

The researcher's further said that a major cause of ozone loss is believed to be the amount of smoke from unprecedented Australian wildfires, which were triggered by wildfires.

The ozone hole over Antarctica was first discovered in 1985 and CFC' (chlorofluorocarbons) were identified as the factors responsible for that. In 1987, all the countries agreed to phase out the ozone-depleting chemicals, and it resulted in "Montreal Protocol".

The ozone layer started healing, but the occurrence of the hole every year over Antarctica an area where the gas layer is very depleted had concerned environmentalists. The ultraviolet radiation from the Sun increase the risk of "Skin Cancer" and "Cataracts" in humans. The researchers found that the same is also true for Antarctic mammals and birds.

"But probably the biggest risk to the Antarctic animals is eye damage," said Professor Robinson.

And the change is also affecting the vegetation that grows in the Antarctica, like krill, which has moved deeper into ocean to avoid UV rays, affecting the food intake of seals, penguins and other seabirds that feed on them.

Scientists say that the record duration of the Antarctic ozone hole is "a wake-up call". They have proposed some climate-cooling experiments to limit the impact of climate change on Antarctica's atmosphere.

Animals can get cancer from UV radiation, just like humans, although fur and feathers offer some protection.

Urge the world environmentalists and the scientists working in the Antarctica region to look into the issue very seriously and save this animals otherwise a day will come when Penguins and Seals will be disappeared from our globe like dinosaurs!

Let's work and join hands to save them.



Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi