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Have you ever heard of dogs wearing sunscreen lotion? Most likely not, and neither had we, until 1995 when our International Arctic Project team of explorers and Polar Huskies (Canyon and Vinson) were traveling across the huge ice sheets on the Arctic ocean on their way to the North Pole.

At the very same time, a big hole opened up in the ozone layer above them. The team members not only had to protect themselves, it turned out that the dogs would actually get sunburned on their noses and some of their fur was sort of "fried off" so they needed to put sunscreen on - pretty scary stuff!

Did you know that the Sun is a star? - AND - that sled dogs need sunscreen lotion too!?!

As you know, our old (4.5 billion years) Sun is incredibly powerful. Actually, without Sun, there would be no life plants, no energy, no life on Earth! So, we are pretty dependent on that big (radius: 432,500 miles/ 696,000 km) yellow thing up there.

But like everything, too much of a thing can be bad for you. (Which you may know if you have ever experienced a sunburn.) What is damaging for your skin in sunrays is the ultra violet radiation.

Scientist talk about 3 different types or lengths of ultra violet radiation - the shorter the more dangerous. The longest (UV-A) causes sunburn, the shorter (UV-B) can cause skin cancer and the shortest (UV-AA) can be used to sterilize stuff because it kills bacteria and viruses!

Of course, ultraviolet radiation is good for something; a large portion of the vitamin D that humans and animals need for good health is produced when the human's or animal's skin is irradiated by ultraviolet rays.

To see the latest daliy Ozone picture above the North Pole, click here

But, again if all the ultraviolet radiation produced by the Sun were allowed to reach the surface of the Earth, most life on Earth would probably be destroyed. Fortunately, the ozone layer of the atmosphere absorbs almost all of the short-wavelength ultraviolet radiation, and much of the long-wavelength ultraviolet radiation which protects all of us down here.

The bad part is that in the 1980s, scientists began finding evidence that the ozone layer was being depleted. Holes were starting to form in the ozone layer, especially over the North – and South Pole.

So what is ozone? Ozone is a naturally occurring gas that is found in two layers of the atmosphere. It is a pale blue, relatively unstable molecule. In Greek, the word ozone means "to smell," and as the name suggests, it has a strong odor which you may have smelled during electrical storms or if some electrical device like your toaster got fried!

In the layer surrounding the Earth’s surface, (the troposphere) ground-level or "bad" ozone is an air pollutant that is a major factor of urban smog.

Check out the Ozone over Your House.

The troposphere extends up to the stratosphere, which is where "good" ozone protects life on Earth by absorbing some of the sun’s UV rays. Stratospheric ozone is most concentrated between 6 to 30 miles above the Earth’s surface.

Though ozone is pretty tough, it does have some enemies such as methyl bromide (used in pesticides), halons (used in fire extinguishers) and methyl chloroform (used in industrial processes). Unfortunately, as you can see, we humans release a larger number of these into the air which then depletes the ozone layer that protects us against the damaging UV rays from the Sun.

You can check out the UV Index daily. It tells you how thin the ozone layer is that day... and how much you should protect yourself! Click here to see how it works.

Until recently, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were used widely in industry and elsewhere as refrigerants, insulating foams and solvents. Strong winds would carry CFCs into the stratosphere in a process taking as long as 2 to 5 years. However, when CFCs break down in the stratosphere, they release chlorine which attacks ozone.

Realizing how damaging CFCs and other substances are to our planet, countries around the world have signed a treaty called the Montreal Protocol to phase out the production and use of ozone-depleting substances.

SIGN UP! for the Sunwise School Program -- Click here to visit EPA and get SUNSMARTER...

So, now everything is ok right!? Not quite yet. Unfortunately, it will take probably ten more years before scientists can see the results of this treaty since the ozone depletion is such a slow process. The lucky part is that natural atmospheric processes eventually will repair the ozone layer - probably around the middle of the 21st century. Until then, we can expect increased levels of UV radiation at the Earth’s surface. These increased UV levels can lead to a greater risk of overexposure to UV radiation and related health effects. Meaning you have to be very careful and protect your self against the sun.

The danger of exposure to increased UV levels is actually what we here in the US consider a "serious public health threat" which is why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working with schools and communities across the nation through the SunWise School Program to make us all sun smarter. Check it out here !

To protect yourself REMEMBER:

Do Not Stay Out to Long in the Midday Sun. The Sun's rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. - make sure to stay in the shade as much as possible during these hours.

Look for Shade. Go undercover... Remember the shadow rule: "Watch Your Shadow - No Shadow, Seek Shade!"

ALWAYS Use Sunscreen. Use at least "Sun Protection Factor 15", use it a lot (put new on every 2 hours when "spending time" in the sun). And remember that NO sunscreen is really waterproof... because you usually rub it off when you towel off!

Put on a Hat. Notice how your eyes, ears, face and back of the neck are hard to protect and always get red first!? A hat solves that problem.

Cover Up. Wearing clothing is the best way to protect your skin !

Wear GOOD Sunglasses. They must block 99-100% of UV radiation or else they may do more damage than good! If you do not wear them, it can lead to cataracts and other eye damage.

Avoid Sunlamps and Tanning Parlors. Artifcial UV light is just as bad (or worse) for you.

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