The atmosphere of the Earth is divided into five layers. In order of closest and thickest to farthest and thinnest the layers are listed as follows: troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, thermosphere and exosphere. The majority of the ozone in the atmosphere resides in the stratosphere, which extends from six miles above the Earth’s surface to 31 miles. Humans rely heavily on the absorption of ultraviolet B rays by the ozone layer because UV-B radiation causes skin cancer and can lead to genetic damage. The ozone layer has historically protected the Earth from the harmful UV rays, although in recent decades this protection has diminished due to stratospheric ozone depletion.

Figure 1. These images from the Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS) show the progressive depletion of ozone over Antarctica from 1979 to 1999. This "ozone hole" has extended to cover an area as large as 10.5 million square miles in September 1998. The previous record of 10.0 million square miles was set in 1996. Figure courtesy of NASA.