Mysterious rise in emissions of ozone-damaging chemical

Launching a balloon that carries atmospheric measuring devices over Antarctica.
       Courtesy NOAA

Launching a balloon that carries atmospheric measuring devices over Antarctica. Courtesy NOAA

"The newer substances that are out there, the replacements for CFC-11, might be more hard or expensive for some countries to produce or get at".

Officially, production of CFC-11 is supposed to be at or near zero - at least, that is what countries have been telling the United Nations body that monitors and enforces the Protocol.

Today, from its peak in 1993, CFC-11 concentrations have declined by 15 percent.

The scientists said the deviation coincided with a rise in amounts of two other chemicals, chlorodifluoromethane and dichloromethane, suggesting they were all coming from the same source, though it was not clear exactly where they were being produced.

"I do measurement for more than 30 years, and this is the most awesome thing I have seen, said Steven Monda (Stephen Montzka), a scientist from the National oceanic and atmospheric administration, who led this work".

"This evidence strongly suggests increased CFC-11 emissions from eastern Asia after 2012". Pictured, the Antarctic ozone hole, located above the South Pole.

If you thought the crisis over the gaping hole in the ozone layer was under control, prepare to be disappointed.

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The researchers built mathematical models to account for these observations, which suggest CFC-11 emissions have actually been increasing by around 25% each year since 2012, despite virtually no CFC-11 production being reported to the relevant authorities during this time. This led the researchers to posit that someone might be indulging in the production of the chemical.

At first, the researchers hypothesised that the sudden hike in CFC-11 might be due to the destruction of old buildings containing CFC-11 refrigerants.

High in the atmosphere, ozone shields Earth from ultraviolet rays that cause skin cancer, crop damage and other problems.

The study authors point out that while CFC-11 can persist in the atmosphere for 50 years, the overall level of chlorine atoms is still declining.

"I hope that somehow the global community can put pressure on South East Asian countries, maybe China, to go and look at whether they can get more information on where the emissions come from". The statement also takes note of the importance of identifying the source of the emission increase, and taking the necessary actions against it.

Unreported production of CFC-11 outside of certain specific carve-out purposes in the treaty would be a "violation of global law", Weller confirmed, though he said that the Protocol is "non-punitive" and the remedy would probably involve a negotiation with the offending party, or country. This insults everybody who's worked on this for the last 30 years. Though concentrations of CFC11 in the atmosphere are still declining, they're declining more slowly than they would if there were no new sources, Montzka said. But the apparent increase in emissions of CFC-11 has slowed the rate of decrease by about 22 percent, the scientists found.

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