DENVER, Colorado– Wildfire smoke can not only impact our lung health but also potentially contribute to increased cases of skin cancer.
Research suggests that the particulate matter and pollutants in wildfire smoke can penetrate the skin, leading to oxidative stress and damage to skin cells. This, in turn, may increase the risk of developing skin cancer.
While more research is needed to fully understand the relationship, taking precautions such as minimizing outdoor exposure during intense smoke, using protective clothing and sunscreen, and seeking medical attention for concerning skin changes after smoke exposure is important.
The current smoke from the Canadian wildfires is once again causing haze in the Front Range area. In addition to the unpleasant breathing conditions it creates, recent research indicates that smoke can also contribute to the erosion of the protective ozone layer.
An illustrative example is the 2020 Australian brushfire, which resulted in the burning of approximately 40 million acres and the release of substantial amounts of smoke into the atmosphere.
Such smoke emissions have the potential to interact with ozone molecules, leading to chemical reactions that degrade the ozone layer.
The impact of smoke on the ozone layer is a concerning issue as the ozone layer plays a critical role in shielding the Earth from harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
A weakened ozone layer could result in increased UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface, posing risks to human health, ecosystems, and climate.
Understanding the relationship between smoke emissions, ozone depletion, and their long-term consequences is an active area of scientific research. Efforts to mitigate wildfires, reduce smoke emissions, and protect the ozone layer remain important in preserving the Earth’s atmospheric balance and safeguarding human and environmental well-being.
“It injected on the order of about one million tons of soot and organics into the stratosphere,” said Doug Kinnison, project scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. “The soot is being injected above the ozone layer.”
Kinnison and a team of researchers from across the country wanted to know exactly what that smoke was doing to the ozone layer, the protective layer of the earth’s atmosphere shielding the planet from the sun’s damaging UV rays.
“Because anything that affects the ozone layer will affect the amount of ultraviolet light that gets to the surface and causes skin cancer and plant damage,” Kinnison said.
The scientists discovered that not only does the smoke and soot stay in the stratosphere for years, but while it’s there, it changes the chemical make-up of the ozone.
“What we observed was that… the ozone in the mid latitudes in the southern hemisphere… from this Australian fire, just depleted on the order of three to 5%,” he explained.
Consider in the 1980’s, protocols were enacted to reduce the amount of ozone depleting chemicals called Chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs for short.
As a result, the ozone is now recovering about 1% per decade.
“If we follow those protocols, our ozone will be back to pre-CFC days in about year 2045,” said Kinnison. “It takes a while, but a 1% per decade, we’ll get there.”
The depletion of the ozone layer by 3 to 5% in a single year represents a significant setback in terms of recovery progress. This is a major concern among researchers and scientists like Kinnison.
The link between hotter and drier climate conditions and the occurrence of massive wildfires further exacerbates the threat to the ozone layer.
Efforts to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions become crucial in addressing this issue. By minimizing the amount of greenhouse gas warming, the atmosphere becomes less susceptible to the conditions that promote wildfires. This, in turn, helps protect the ozone layer from further damage.
The research emphasizes the importance of not only tackling climate change but also implementing effective measures to mitigate wildfires.
Taking proactive steps to prevent the occurrence of these large-scale fires can significantly reduce the risks they pose to the ozone layer and overall environmental well-being.
By recognizing the interconnections between climate change, wildfires, and ozone depletion, we can work towards comprehensive strategies that prioritize both climate mitigation and wildfire management.
Such efforts are vital for safeguarding the ozone layer and promoting a sustainable future.