WELLINGTON – New Zealanders have been warned of higher UV radiation levels this coming summer and asked to be extra cautious against sunburn and skin cancer.
UV radiation is produced by the sun and too much exposure can damage people's health by causing sunburn, premature aging, and increasing the risk of skin cancer, according to experts on Friday.
This is of particular concern in New Zealand due to its ozone already being some of the thinnest in the world.
According to a report released by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), peak clear sky UV index levels between noon and 1 pm at Leigh, Auckland, have been 5 percent more on average
According to a report released by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), peak clear sky UV index levels between noon and 1 pm at Leigh, Auckland, have been 5 percent more on average and up to 10 percent higher over the last month compared with the same period last year.
"A UV index level of 3 or more is enough to cause skin damage," the report said.
It has already reached UV level 8 in New Zealand this week, which is rare in Britain, even in the height of summer, according to NIWA that provides daily UV level forecasts.
UV Index levels are predicted to reach between 6 and 7 in the country's south, 7 to 8 in central parts, and between 8 and 9 in the north over the weekend.
NIWA meteorologist Richard Turner said that New Zealand is likely experiencing elevated clear sky UV levels due to a slight depletion of the ozone layer over the past few months.
"Our atmosphere shields us from a lot of the sun's radiation because of the thin ozone layer in our stratosphere, which absorbs most of the UV," Turner said, adding that data collected at the atmospheric research station, however, showed that ozone levels are at or near the lower end of what to be expected at this time of the year.
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The ozone layer naturally breaks down and restores, but it has become thinner over time. This is particularly prominent over Antarctica, where a large hole forms in the spring with the effects felt in New Zealand over summer, he said.
The most common cause is manufactured chemicals such as CFCs, which were phased out in the 1990s but linger in the atmosphere for decades.
Another cause of ozone depletion is volcanic eruptions. This is leading some scientists to think that January's eruption of the underwater Tongan volcano — which caused the biggest explosion in modern times — could be a factor, said the meteorologist.
"New Zealand often ranks highest in the world for skin cancer rates. Even on cloudy days, you can burn within minutes," said Hazel Potterton, national advisor of SunSmart from the Cancer Society of New Zealand.
Potterton called on people to put on clothes in summer to cover as much skin as possible, slip into shade, especially during the middle of the day, apply sunscreen of at least SPF 30 every two hours, wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.