When it comes to radiation, fearsome disasters like Fukushima and Chernobyl capture the headlines. But for most people, the real radiation risk comes from the sun – and global warming could make the problem much worse. A study published this week reveals that an intense two-year UV storm caused solar radiation to spike in some areas – and the situation will get more severe as the ozone layer continues to thin.
Researchers sought to study conditions similar to those found on Mars, so they headed to the Andes mountain peaks, which are surprisingly Martian-like. Over the next two years, they recorded soaring UV levels unlike anything ever recorded outside of Antarctica – some measurements rated as high as 43 on the UV index. Here in the US, we usually see an index of 8 or 9 during the intense summer sun on your average beach, so a number in the 40s is extraordinary – it’s not unlike what we would see on Mars.
The UV storm, which took place in 2003 and 2004, was an unusual spike caused by ozone thinning from a solar flare, intense winds, seasonal fires and several storms, so we don’t usually see levels that high. But climate change is causing the ozone to thin, and a thinning ozone could mean more intense UV radiation storms for the planet – even outside of the high Andes and Antarctic. More studies are needed to really determine how severe the threat will be, but one thing is certainly evident: typhoons, fires and tornadoes might be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to climate change.