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Desert Diary
Climate/Ultraviolet Radiation


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Unseen, unheard, all around us, invisible deadly forces permeate the air. No, not the ghosts of malevolent lost souls, but natural energies invisible to our senses. Energies such as the ultraviolet radiation streaming from our sun, little diluted by its 93-million-mile trip.

Like much of the output of old Sol, ultraviolet rays are invisible to our eyes--but the results are not. Almost everyone has been sunburned one time or another, the result of this radiation doing several nasty things to our skin. The immediate pain of blistered skin is not the worst of it. The wrinkled skin ultimately resulting from solar exposure may rate high with some, but the increased incidence of skin cancer is always primary—not to mention the increased density of cataracts dimming vision in later years.

What does this all have to do with our Chihuahuan Desert? The oft cloudless skies and low humidity do little to impede this energy, rendering us especially vulnerable. Perhaps siesta during the height of the sun's power makes more sense than we've realized.
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio, University of Texas at El Paso.