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Ultraviolet Radiation Studies: Overview

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation that reaches the lower atmosphere can have severe effects on exposed skin, eyes, plants, etc. Cancers can be caused, some fatal. Recent attention to the changes in stratospheric ozone has generated considerable interest in UV radiation, because as ozone levels decrease the amount of damaging UV-B reaching the surface increases. Ozone is a highly efficient absorber of UV-B radiation. In fact, detailed measurements of UV-B are used by scientists to keep track of the total amount of ozone contained in the atmosphere.

Interest in both atmospheric composition and UV effects motivate the monitoring of UV at the surface. The various US agencies, with their different but interlocking missions, have initiated a number of UV monitoring programs, employing instrumentation falling into three distinctly different categories:

  1. broad-band sensors of radiation intensity within a spectral region between two specified levels,
  2. narrow-band instruments measuring radiation in several well-defined wavelength intervals,
  3. and spectral devices providing detailed information on radiation intensity as a function of wavelength.

Different instruments suit different applications. Questions about variations in human exposure are conveniently answered using broad-band instruments. Questions about specific airborne chemicals (e.g. ozone) require spectral information. Narrow band instruments sometimes constitute an optimal practical solution to the desire to satisfy both communities, and are being increasingly incorporated into monitoring networks.