Title : Deepest Ozone Hole Matched by Record Ultraviolet Radiation Type : Press Release NS

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Title : Deepest Ozone Hole Matched by Record Ultraviolet Radiation Type : Press Release NSF Org: OD / LPA Date : November 18, 1993 File : pr9387 Lynn Simarski November 18, 1993 (202) 357-9498 NSF PR 93-87 Deepest Ozone Hole Matched by Record Ultraviolet Radiation This year's ozone hole over Antarctica, notable for the lowest values of ozone ever recorded on Earth, is also apparently allowing record levels of ultraviolet (UV) light to strike Antarctica. Scientists supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) are now investigating what impact the increased UV might have on Antarctic life, and whether animals and plants may employ natural mechanisms to avoid harm from UV. Studies have already estimated that UV damage has reduced the productivity of ocean phytoplankton--the tiny plants that comprise the base of the food chain in the Southern Ocean--by six to 12 percent. At the United States' South Pole research station, up to November 3, the average level of UV-B--the part of the spectrum most harmful to life--has been 19 percent higher than in the past two years. The average "erythema" level of UV--a measure relating sunlight to skin cancer--is 23 percent higher than in the past. According to another criteria, an assessment of UV's damage to exposed DNA, this year's values were 56 percent higher. The station is part of a UV-monitoring network sponsored by NSF and run by Biospherical Instruments, Inc. At the U.S. McMurdo Station on the Ross Sea coast, where UV has been monitored since 1988, UV-B is 44 percent higher this year, the erythema level is 55 percent higher, and the DNA damage is 96 percent higher than in past years. Values are significantly greater at McMurdo because the sun is higher in the sky and delivers a stronger dose of UV radiation than at the Pole. On the other side of the continent, at Palmer Station on the Antarctic peninsula, record UV levels have also been registered that significantly exceed any measurements from the entire monitoring network over the past six years. The average UV-B is 55 percent higher, erythema 73 percent higher, and the DNA dose is 113 percent greater than in the past. Various NSF-supported researchers are also studying how the rising UV levels may affect Antarctic life. Currently, researchers aboard the Nathaniel B. Palmer, the U.S. Antarctic Program's icebreaking research vessel, are investigating how ozone depletion affects phytoplankton in Antarctica's Weddell Sea. As summer comes to Antarctica and winter's constricted atmospheric circulation over the continent breaks down, this year's ozone hole may follow one of two patterns, based on past behavior. The hole may "die" in place--with the tight winter vortex slowly stopping, followed by gentle mixing of low-latitude, ozone-rich air into the antarctic stratosphere. The hole would then appear to have closed. The other possibility is that the vortex may wobble like a slowing top, eventually breaking up into large masses of ozone-poor air, which would sail off, more or less intact, to lower latitudes. In any case, another NSF UV-monitoring station at Ushuaia, Argentina, has not yet registered any sign of this year's ozone hole. The National Science Foundation is an independent agency of the federal government established in 1950 to promote and advance scientific progress in the United States. NSF accomplishes its mission primarily by competitively awarding grants to educational institutions for research and education in the sciences, mathematics, and engineering. This and other information is available electronically on STIS, NSF's Science and Technology Information System. For more information about STIS contact the Publications Section at (202) 357-7861 and request the "STIS Flyer," NSF Publication #91-10, or send an E-mail message to stisinfo@nsf.gov (INTERNET) or stisinfo@NSF (BITNET).


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