The strongest UV rays on Earth were measured in South America, according to a new study

Laguna Verde, Bolivia Courtesy: Pedro Szekely/Flickr Creative Commons

Laguna Verde, Bolivia Courtesy: Pedro Szekely/Flickr Creative Commons

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Wednesday, July 9, 2014, 3:39 PM - The highest level of ultraviolet (UV) radiation ever detected on Earth was found in the Andes mountains of Bolivia in 2003, according to a new study.

Researchers say the rays were found about 2,400 km from the equator and were considered unsafe for life on land and in the water.

The event occurred on December 29, 2003 when an all-time high of 43.3 was measured on the UV index at Bolivia's Licanabur volcano.

According to LiveScience, a UV index of 43 is "more similar to the surface radiation on Mars" than Earth. The World Health Organization recommends wearing sun protection when there is a UV index of 3 and avoiding prolonged sun exposure when the index measures between 8 and eleven.

There are a few factors that contributed to the 2003 spike.

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Harmful chemicals in the atmosphere and fires in the Amazon may have depleted the ozone layer, which protects the planet from the carcinogenic effects of the sun's UV radiation.

Severe thunderstorms in the region and a massive solar flare that occurred two weeks prior may have exacerbated the situation.

Scientists say more work needs to be done to determine the exact cause of the radiation spike.

"If we had a way of monitoring these events and better understanding [of] how they are created, then we could develop an alarm system so people could stay inside and be protected," study author Nathalie Cabrol told reporters.

The complete study can be found in the Tuesday edition of Frontiers in Environmental Science.


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