The effect of the sun on the earth and her inhabitants
Our sun is the center of our personal universe. It was named after the ancient Roman god of the Sun, Sol. The ancients knew that without sunlight, vegetation would not grow, and without vegetation, animal life would not have the nourishment to exist.
But just what is our bright shining star?
At the center of our solar system, is a ball of energy made up, primarily of hydrogen and helium. It is going through a massive nuclear fusion reaction which creates all the energy it is releasing. You may recall from your high school science classes that nuclear fusion is the process where two (or more) smaller atoms combine due to extreme pressure and heat, to form a single atom approximately equal to the total mass of the smaller atoms. In the case of our sun, the nuclear reaction is consuming hydrogen and making helium.
Now this reaction releases a massive amount of energy. It is hard to fathom the amount of energy released but Learn Astronomy HQ tried to simplify the understanding. “In one second, the sun generates more energy than has been used in all of mankind’s history.”
Energy is measured (in the metric system) using the Joule. A typical 10-watt flashlight consumes about 600 Joules of energy in one minute. Our wonderful nuclear ball of light produces 380 quadrillion Joules every second. Visualize if you will that there are an estimated 1 quadrillion stars in the observable universe. “So the amount of energy released by the Sun in 1 second is a number about 380 times larger than the number of stars in the entire observable universe.”
The Sun is roughly 1.4 million kilometers (870,000 miles) in diameter and has a mass approximately 330,000 times that of our fragile little blue dot, Earth. This perfect energy source is only 93 million miles away from our delicate little planet. Now, not all the energy produced by Old Sol is directed toward our planet Gaia. According to Solar Powered in Toronto, about 1.74 x 1017 Joules of energy strike the earth every second.
The energy (power flux) produced by the Sun that reaches the top of the Earth’s atmosphere, is 1400 watts / m2. This (electromagnetic-EM) energy is provided in a broad range of energies, predominantly in the ultraviolet, visible and infrared regions of the EM Spectrum. There is a small amount of high-energy radiation that is usually absorbed in the upper atmosphere.
According to the website environ.andrew.cmu.edu the EM energies below about 250 nanometers do not reach the upper atmosphere in quantities of concern. This may be due to our Earth’s own magnetic energy fields creating the Van Allan belts and deflecting many of these high energy particles away from our envelope of life. The Van Allan belts are two regions around the earth that trap energetic electrons (outer belt) and protons (inner belt) as well as other particles at a much lesser rate.
Lower down, we have the 5 layers of our atmosphere. They are (from highest elevation to ground level);
- Exosphere: the highest part of our atmosphere is where we actually lose molecules to space.
- Thermosphere: The atmosphere in this region is very thin. A small change in the energy reaching this region will result in a large change in the temperature. When the Sun is active, the thermosphere can heat up to 1,500 degrees C. The thermosphere is also home to the ionosphere. When the energy from the Sun hits the ionosphere, it can break molecules apart, sending electrons flying around and ionizing other molecules. The ionosphere can help reduce the ultra-violet (UV) radiation through this ionizing process. It also helps absorb hard and soft x-rays.
- Mesosphere: in this part of the atmosphere, the air is relatively mixed and is thicker than the higher levels. It is also the layer which is the first defense against meteor impacts.
- Stratosphere: 90% of the Earth’s ozone is located in the stratosphere. Ozone is poisonous in the lower troposphere because it is a very reactive oxidizer, but in the stratosphere, it helps protect our planet by reacting to ultraviolet rays (UV) that passes through the higher portions of the atmosphere. Ozone is a molecule of 3 oxygen atoms (O3), unlike the oxygen we breathe, which is 2 oxygen atoms (O2). When solar radiation (UV) hits and energizes an ozone molecule, it breaks the molecule O3 into a molecule of O2 and an ion of O–. This single O– atom can react with another molecule of O– or recombine with another O2 molecule creating another O3. It is important to keep in mind that ozone is constantly being created and destroyed and that these reactions are natural processes, which have been taking place for millions of years. Overall, these reactions are in balance with each other, and we have a stable ozone layer.
- Troposphere: this is where we live. The troposphere extends from ground level to about 20,000 feet. This is where weather occurs.
As mentioned above, our ozone layer helps reduce the amount of UV radiation that reaches the surface of our little blue dot. In 1987, the Montreal Protocol was signed. This international agreement was made to phase out the production of numerous ozone-depleting chemicals.
These chemicals, predominated by Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), migrate to the Stratosphere. Just as the example given of the O3 reactions above, UV radiation energizes the CFC molecule, breaking off a chlorine ion (Cl–). This Cl– ion reacts to a nearby O3 molecule creating a chlorine-oxygen (Cl-O) molecule and an O2 molecule. The newly created molecule of Cl-O reacts with another O3 molecule creating an O2 molecule and a single Cl– ion (which is free to attack another ozone molecule.) A single chlorine atom would continuously destroy ozone for up to two years before falling back into the troposphere. Bromine and fluorine are equally reactive so we can understand why our ozone layer is depleted and we are experiencing an increase in UV radiation.
The Sun and a rise in temperature
Having lived in the south of Spain since 1976, I have seen the change in the climate. Recently an article came out in the local newspaper SUR, stating that the average temperature at the Malaga airport has gone up by 1.3 degrees when compared to 30 years ago. Experts say this is the direct result of climate change and that more green space is needed to mitigate the effects.
For the normal person, this might not be much but it has alarmed scientists who predict that by the year 2050 the rise will be 2.4 degrees. That means that in only one century from 1943 with a temperature of 18.1 degrees, it will be 20.5 degrees in 2050. I am not certain that most people understand the entirety of the problem. They will say, yes it is somehow hotter but, they do not realize that we rely on the cooling nights. What generally happens is that temperatures during the night are increasing more rapidly than during the daytime. The average temperature is unevenly distributed throughout the day.
Scientists are already seeing the telltale consequences of global warming. Sea levels are already rising and crops are ripening at different times in the year than normally expected. Other big cities in Spain have been analyzed. Barcelona, which is roughly 1000 km north of Malaga, has experienced an increase of 1.9 degrees. Then there is Avila, in the center of Spain, which can boast an increase of 1.8 degrees. The best solution scientists come up with, besides reducing greenhouse gasses, is to plant more trees, lots of them.
The danger of too much sun
The Costa del Sol is a very sought after holiday destination. Even if Andalucia has a proud cultural heritage with many lovely and interesting towns to visit, and beautiful Natural Parks for walking, a big part of the 12.5 million tourists (2018) visited, with their main aim being the lovely beaches. When you take into consideration that the official population of the Costa del Sol is 1 million people, you can understand that at certain times of the year it can get rather crowded. Those are the months where I prefer to stay home and wait for quieter times.
These people arrive, pale-skinned, to leave after 14 days, often unrecognizable so dark they have become. To stay for hours on end on the beach, day after day, absorbing all the sun they can get, is extremely dangerous for your health. One should not forget that the sun reflects off the water as well, and while swimming in the sea your sun protection has gone. The effects of the sun are not the same as 50 years ago. This is due to a thinning out of the ozone layer. When in old times you might have needed protection of 20 to 30, nowadays you might need 50 or more.
What skin type are you?
1. Very Pale or White. These people are albinos and should really never sunbathe.
2. Pale Skin. This is the Celtic or Anglo-Saxon type. They have to be very careful.
3. and 4. Medium and Brown. These are the Mediterranean people. There are 2 types. One has a medium skin while the other is much darker.
5. Dark Brown. Gypsy origin, Indians, South Americans.
6. Very Dark or Black. These people should protect themselves from ultra-violet A radiation.
As a general rule, one should not be in the sun from midday to 4 pm. Sunglasses are needed to protect your eyes. Caps and hats are recommended, especially for small children and older people. After swimming or perspiring a lot and in general, every 2 hours, a new layer of sun protection should be applied.
No bad chemicals on my skin
One should not forget that the skin is our biggest organ. When your skin is bad, it is a sign that something is not functioning well inside your system. One should try and avoid artificial foods loaded with pesticides, toxins, etc, so then why would you use a product which is not natural, but loaded with chemicals? Here EWG comes to our aid. They have a list of 303 products which you can use. I am sure you will find some of them meeting your needs. Have a look at EWG’s list of Best Beach and Sport Sunscreens.
Personally, I do not use sunscreen, but then I do not lie for hours on end in the sun. As the climate is normally mild also in the winter, whenever there is the time I try to catch my 15 to 20 minutes of sunshine on the patio. I am not really brown, I would call it having a healthy-looking color.
More sun in the south means more skin cancer
In the Malaga province, there are 20 cases of skin cancer per 100,000 inhabitants which is double the national average.
People who sunbathe sensibly can avoid 90% of skin cancers.
In the year 2017, there were 5,500 cases of skin tumors treated in the province of Malaga.
The difference between a benign mole and melanoma
A. A stands for asymmetry; Moles are round and symmetrical / melanomas are initially asymmetrical.
B. Is for Borders; boarders of moles are even / Borders of melanomas are initially uneven
C. C for color; moles are light or dark brown but homogeneous / melanomas are uneven in color with two or more tones, blackish, reddish.
D. D for diameter; moles are smaller than 6mm / melanomas are bigger than 6mm.
E. Is for evolution.
Solar rays can cause photosensitivity and allergic or toxic reactions by itself or in combination with certain medication people might be taking. Dermatologists tell us that the skin has a memory. The more sun you got when being small or later on when becoming an adult, the greater the chance you might suffer skin cancer. Whenever you have a mole which behaves strangely, go and see the doctor. It is not a bad idea to make it your habit to visit the dermatologist on a yearly basis for a general checkup.
We need the sun to stay healthy. Solar rays are essential to synthesize vitamin D. With no sunshine, people would suffer from rickets and not be able to live. The fact that the sun favors the secretion of endorphins which makes people feel happy and full of energy is another plus point to consider.
Modern life makes us sit inside too much, be it in a car, office or at home. Go out there and get your daily ration of sunshine. It is good for your health and makes you happy.
Source: Newspaper SUR, 19th to 25th July 2019, article Matias Stuber on Climate
Angel Escalera, article on Skin Cancer, Newspaper SUR, 14th to 20th of June 2019
Photo Source: Pixabay
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