U.S.-German Researchers Record Highest-Ever UV Radiation Levels in the Andes in Bolivia

Published Date : Jul 09, 2014

Researchers from the United States and Germany have measured the highest-ever recorded level of ultraviolet radiation on Earth in the Andes in Bolivia. Their study indicates that such harmful levels of radiation are likely a result of the depleting ozone layer.

The Bolivian Andes are located just 1,500 miles from the equator, and the UV radiation levels recorded here were dangerously higher than levels normally considered safe for aquatic and terrestrial life. The researchers made this discovery with the use of the European Light Dosimeter Network (Eldonet). It came as a surprise that South America recorded unprecedented levels of UV levels in the summertime of 2003 and 2004. 

Scientists working on the study are astonished that these high levels were seen in South America, and not Antarctica, where holes in the ozone layer have been a concern to the environmental and scientific community for several decades. 

The lead author of the study, Nathalie A. Cabrol who works at the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center, stated that these dangerously high levels of UV radiation being found in the tropics, where humans live, could be a cause for concern.

These measurements were collected when her team was conducting an astrobiology study at the Andean lakes to identify Mars-like environments. Further analysis of these measurements revealed that the high altitude of the Andes, combined with the harsh mid-day sun was the reason behind this high level of irradiance. Ozone levels are naturally low in such locations.

Normally, an UV index of 11 or higher is labeled as extreme, but in nearby locations, this figure has gone up to 26 in recent years. However, Cabrol said that her team measured an UV index of 43 on December 29, 2003. To put this into perspective, Cabrol said that on a typical day out in the U.S., a person would be exposed to an UV index of 8 to 9.