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Chris Keenan
Chris Keenan

Arctic Ozone Hole’s Effect on Food Supplies this Winter

One of the biggest indicators of climate change are ozone holes, zones where the ozone that forms the protective layer of Earth’s atmosphere are too thin to be protective anymore. This is caused by greenhouse gases creating chemical reactions with sunlight which destroy the oxygen particles. This is more severe over the poles.

The reactions that convert less reactive chemicals into ozone-destroying ones take place in the polar vortex.  This is a circulation pattern created by the rotation of the Earth and cold temperatures in the Polar Regions. The last winter and spring were characterized by a remarkably strong polar vortex and an abnormally long cold period. The cause is anthropomorphic climate change.

We are all familiar with the Antarctic hole that surfaces every year. Now, there is a hole and this time, a lot closer to home. The journal nature has confirmed that conditions this year have created the ozone hole in the North Pole.

Countries agreed to end their production of the substances ultimately responsible for destruction of the ozone in 1987 with the Montreal Protocol such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).  Even though production has stopped, the gases are still in the atmosphere. They take over a century to completely break down unlike carbon dioxide which takes several years.  This is because the gases were created to be difficult to break down which of course had after-effects that have shown alarming effects on our delicate atmosphere.

Ozone loss is expected to improve in the coming decades as atmospheric levels of these chemicals decline but the effects of carbon dioxide and other gases still need to be monitored. There will be climate change as a result of the Arctic ozone hole because greenhouse gases will heat the air closer to the ground and will also cool the upper atmosphere.  This creates reactions that are the cause of ozone breakdown.  Ultraviolet (UV) rays enter the Earth’s atmosphere in higher numbers than normal as a result of all these events, like a garage door left wide open in the middle of mosquito season.

The results of ozone holes create many problems globally. In addition to the ozone loss creating higher risks of skin cancer, there is a concern over food production.  According to researchers from the Nature journal, just an 11 percent increase in UV light can cause a 24 percent decrease in winter wheat yield, a critical crop for Europe. A 24 percent decrease is a very substantial number for the wheat crop.

Europe is already limited in its farmlands because of its population densities and therefore the urban centers have a high dependency on the winter wheat staple.  A decrease of 24 percent will be enough to affect populations all over and have all food prices go up. The continent will have to rely upon imported other foods which are also expensive.

The effects on crops may not be limited to just Europe. North American wheat and corn production can also be affected. The areas where the crops are grown are not as close to the Arctic as Europe, but still are subject to any changes in atmosphere temperature variations.

The news of the Arctic ozone hole is very clear in that we need to be aware of our consumption patterns that involve the gases which cause climate change. We have the ability to make changes to our future once we gain awareness and make choices that prevent climate change in the long run.

When we take action to prevent climate change and ozone holes, food supplies, human health and other problems affecting us worldwide will have a lot less prevalence.

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