How Does the Ozone Layer Affect Life on Earth?

Most people are well aware of the ozone layer’s importance. Starting with elementary school we hear about how vital it is for human life. But that importance has become so ingrained within our culture that people often overlook specifics. People know it’s important, but not why it’s important.

But in this article we’ll go over exactly why the ozone layer is important. If one wonders how does the ozone layer affect life on Earth than this article can provide an answer.

The Nature of Earth’s Atmosphere

layers of the atmosphere

Wondering how does the ozone layer affect life on Earth involves a larger discussion of the atmosphere. One can glean the greater nature of the ozone layer by its name. The ozone layer is just that, a single layer within a much larger structure.

The Earth’s atmosphere consists of the lower troposphere and upper stratosphere. The troposphere is only part of the atmosphere. But it consists of most human life and activity. For example, the highest mountain on Earth is 5.6 miles.

But the stratosphere doesn’t begin for a full 0.4 miles above that point. Airplanes do fly within the stratosphere. But even they typically sit within the lower reaches of it. The majority of what we know as the ozone layer is higher up in the stratosphere. Typically around nine to eighteen miles above ground level.

Moving Beyond Composition

Of course this answers where the ozone layer is. But it doesn’t answer much about what it actually does. Understanding the structure of the atmosphere is important when starting out though. Asking how does the ozone layer affect life on Earth requires some basic information on its structure.

Next, it’s time to move beyond basic composition. This directly relates to the function of an ozone layer. One should first keep in mind that there’s little in the way of direct need for an ozone layer. The Earth itself would be fine without an ozone layer.

It’s the life on Earth which needs it. This might seem like a subtle distinction at first. But it’ll become more important as this discussion continues. For now, one can think of the ozone layer as a happy accident.

It doesn’t need to be there for the sake of the Earth. And it’s in no way a self correcting entity. We’re lucky enough to have an ozone layer. But if we don’t watch out for it than this resource will disappear.

Direct Functionality

parts of ozone layer

Next up in asking how how does the ozone layer affect life on Earth we come to functionality. One should remember the strata layout of Earth’s atmosphere. Now, one can consider the fact that radiation from the sun constantly bombards that atmosphere.

The atmosphere as a whole controls what’s able to enter and leave Earth. The ozone layer in particular helps to block out most of what could directly hurt life. In particular, it blocks most of the UVB spectrum. Not all of it, but enough to keep it from hurting life too badly.

Relation to Life

If one has sunscreen around than it’s easy to see some of this in action. Sunscreen usually shows what’s blocked. The strongest types of sunscreen specifically note that they block UVA and UVB. For example, micronized titanium creates a solid metallic barrier. This can stand up to higher UVB levels which would normally cause massive amounts of damage.

Now, one can easily extrapolate this to a worst case scenario. People should carefully consider moments when they needed such strong sunscreen. Now, people can consider that only a small amount of UVB even passes through the ozone layer.

It’s easy to imagine the severity one would see if pushing it up two, three or more times. And it’s not just about direct damage either. One should remember that people use sunscreen as much for cancer protection as burn protection. The biggest danger to come from UV rays.

Life can deal with peeling skin. But long term exposure to solar radiation causes cancer.

A Future without the Ozone Layer

Ultimately, it’s excessive exposure to radiation which should be one’s biggest concern. A future without the ozone layer would be a future with massive amounts of radiation damage. The extent of the problem would depend on how much ozone layer remains.

Loss of portions of the ozone layer might not be ideal. But to small extent the world has already endured some of that. But as it moves upward two issues begin to come up.

The first is larger amounts of heat. This will cause massive amounts of worldwide damage to the global ecology. In particular, melting ice won’t just raise sea levels. It’ll eventually destroy habitats.

This, in turn, can grow exponentially as destroyed ecosystems remove food from other ecosystems. As this ramps up, it would rapidly turn into the worst disaster humanity has ever faced. It would make the black plague of the middle ages look mild in comparison.

However, it’s radiation that would be the larger issue. Sea life would be first hit by changes in oceans. But land life wouldn’t have even the mild protection of the sea. As such, radiation would make a huge dent on everything.

Even micro-organisms wouldn’t stand a chance. Destroying the lowest levels of life, in turn, takes out larger species.
Humanity might have a chance if they retreated to bunkers and caves. But it’d be a hard life. A life only maintainable, in theory, by careful cultivation of fungal life.

One can certainly hope that we’ll instead take care of the ozone layer. Because it really is a central component to life on Earth.

Wrapping Things Up

By this point the answer to how does the ozone layer affect life on Earth should be clear. It’s not an altogether easy concept to answer. But we’ve showcased just how and why life and the ozone layer go hand in hand.

But part of that understanding involves a need for communication. The ozone layer is both precious and fragile. After reading this article one should try to participate in a larger discussion. Above all, we need to work together to protect the ozone layer.

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