Ozone layer damage is thinnest near the poles, especially the South Pole, illustrated above. As the ozone layer thins, more ultraviolet light penetrates the Earth's atmosphere. Organisms from tiny plankton to giant blue whales are at risk from increased exposure to ultraviolet light.

Photograph by William H. Bond
  • On October 11, 1995, Mario Molina, Sherwood Rowland, and Paul Crutzen won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work demonstrating that gases known as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are eating away Earth's ozone layer.

    CFC gases were used for years in refrigerators and spray cans, among other products. In the 1970s, Molina and Rowland published a scientific paper proving that CFCs were responsible for reducing the protective layer of ozone in Earth’s atmosphere. As the ozone layer disappears, more ultraviolet radiation from the sun can reach the surface of Earth. This radiation causes harmful sun damage to organism—from plants to people.

    Because of Molina and Rowland’s work, fewer and fewer CFC gases are being used throughout the world. Considerable damage has been done to Earth’s ozone layer, however. The annual thinning of the ozone layer (sometimes called the “ozone hole”) around Antarctica means that people living at far southern latitudes, such as New Zealand, Australia, and Argentina, must protect themselves against the dangerous radiation that can now reach the Earth’s surface in higher quantities.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    annual Adjective


    atmosphere Noun

    layers of gases surrounding a planet or other celestial body.

    Encyclopedic Entry: atmosphere
    demonstrate Verb

    to show how something is done.

    gas Noun

    state of matter with no fixed shape that will fill any container uniformly. Gas molecules are in constant, random motion.

    latitude Noun

    distance north or south of the Equator, measured in degrees.

    Encyclopedic Entry: latitude
    ozone Noun

    form of oxygen that absorbs ultraviolet radiation.

    ozone layer Noun

    layer in the atmosphere containing the gas ozone, which absorbs most of the sun's ultraviolet radiation.

    Encyclopedic Entry: ozone layer
    ultraviolet radiation Noun

    powerful light waves that are too short for humans to see, but can penetrate Earth's atmosphere. Ultraviolet is often shortened to UV.