Strange and Scary Happenings Under the Ozone Hole
THE 125,000 residents of Punta Arenas, Chile’s southernmost city, have long made jokes about living at “the end of the world.” But a spate of strange and scary phenomena last year makes the joke a bit too literal. Some scientists are beginning to think that there may be “something new under the sun here.” A dispatch in The Wall Street Journal, January 12, 1993, gives some details.
Felix Zamorano, a member of the Atmospheric Studies Group at the local University of Magallanes, reports: “In October, we registered the lowest levels of ozone yet measured. The ozone layer thinned to about half of what is normal for three days and fell below what’s considered dangerous levels.” The effects of increased ultraviolet radiation from a hole in the ozone layer “include skin cancer and cataracts, plus trouble for phytoplankton, the base of the marine food chain,” said the Journal.
Last year “half of Radovan Vilicic’s herd of 1,200 cattle were so blinded by conjunctivitis that they crashed into each other like bumper cars, and five starved because they couldn’t find their feed.”
The Journal’s dispatch continues: “Jose Bahamonde tells a similar tale. His ranch, 125 kilometers [80 miles] from here, offers a magnificent view of the Strait of Magellan, but many of his 4,300 sheep can’t see it, or much else. About 10% of them are being treated for eye infections, and 200 of his flock went blind last year.”
Dermatologist Jaime Abarca contends that “what’s happening here is something totally new in the world. It’s as unusual as Martians landing.” He sees more and more patients with skin problems, sunburn cases have flared up, and the proportion of new skin-cancer cases that are the more dangerous melanoma cancers is five times the norm. He is personally convinced there’s a relationship with the increased ultraviolet radiation.
The Punta Arenas populace is taking it seriously. One pharmacy sold 40 percent more sun block than last year. A sunburn hotline gives the ultraviolet readings. Three local radio stations broadcast them too. Schools tell students to wear a hat, sun block, and sunglasses. At one store, sales of sunglasses rose 30 percent. And “a local farmer is trying to design sunglasses for sheep.”
Governor Scarpa says: “I don’t deny the facts. . . . What do you want to do? We can’t put the whole region under a roof.”