Solar ultraviolet radiation in a changing climate

Abstract

The projected large increases in damaging ultraviolet radiation as a result of global emissions of ozone-depleting substances have been forestalled by the success of the Montreal Protocol. New challenges are now arising in relation to climate change. We highlight the complex interactions between the drivers of climate change and those of stratospheric ozone depletion, and the positive and negative feedbacks among climate, ozone and ultraviolet radiation. These will result in both risks and benefits of exposure to ultraviolet radiation for the environment and human welfare. This Review synthesizes these new insights and their relevance in a world where changes in climate as well as in stratospheric ozone are altering exposure to ultraviolet radiation with largely unknown consequences for the biosphere.

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Figure 1: Observed (pre-2010) and projected changes in annual mean erythemal (sunburning) clear-sky UV-B radiation at Earth's surface, relative to 1980, for different latitude bands.
Figure 2: Conceptual model of aquatic and terrestrial processes that are possibly influenced by interactions between ultraviolet radiation and climate change.
Figure 3: Projection of the total numbers of excess new cases of total skin cancer per million people per year avoided by the Montreal Protocol in 2030 compared with a reference population that takes account of population growth only.
Figure 4: Predicted total skin cancer incidence per million population according to calendar year.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to acknowledge our fellow members of the UN Environmental Effects Assessment Panel for being part of the inspiration that has led to the present paper: A. Andrady, P. Aucamp, L. O. Björn, M. Caldwell, A. Cullen, F. de Gruijl, D. Erickson, W. Helbling, M. Ilyas, J. Longstreth, H. H. Redhwi, M. Shao, K. Solomon, Y. Takizawa, X. Tang, A. Torikai, J. van der Leun, S. Wilson and R. Worrest. This article has been reviewed in accordance with the US Environmental Protection Agency's (US EPA) peer- and administrative-review policies and approved for publication. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation for use by the US EPA.

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All authors have helped to develop the paper. C.E.W., R.G.Z., R.M.L. and S.M. played major roles, equally contributing to the conceptualization and writing of the paper. J.F.B. provided content, organized and coordinated the paper and contributed comments and revisions on all the drafts. A.T.A. and C.L.B. contributed text to the terrestrial and aquatic sections. S.A.R. provided text and comments on the terrestrial ecosystems. M.N. contributed to the health section and provided comments on the drafts. B.S. made contributions particularly to the biogeochemical sections. A.F.B. and R.L.M. contributed input to the UV effects and the atmosphere. D.P.H. provided input to the aquatic section. N.D.P. helped with the initial drafts and writing.

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Correspondence to Janet F. Bornman.

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Williamson, C., Zepp, R., Lucas, R. et al. Solar ultraviolet radiation in a changing climate. Nature Clim Change 4, 434–441 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2225

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