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.

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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.

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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.

Via Vice

Lead image via Shutterstock, image via Justin Jensen