Banned Ozone-Harming Gas Creeps Back, Suggesting a Mystery Source

17 May, 2018, 09:11 | Author: Corey Lynch
  • Banned Ozone-Harming Gas Creeps Back, Suggesting a Mystery Source

Something odd is happening with a now-banned chemical that eats away at Earth's protective ozone layer: Scientists say there's more of it - not less - going into the atmosphere, and they don't know where it is coming from. CFC-11 was originally used as a refrigerant but was banned in 1987 under the Montreal Protocol, the worldwide agreement created to protect the ozone layer. A USA observatory in Hawaii found CFC-11 mixed in with other gases that were characteristic of a source coming from somewhere in east Asia, but scientists could not narrow the source down any further. Pictured, the Antarctic ozone hole, located above the South Pole.

CFC-11 is also known as trichlorofluoromethane, and is one of a number of CFCs that were initially developed as refrigerants during the 1930s. When the researchers examined measurements from atop Mauna Loa in Hawaii, they found that other industrial emissions are also increasing.

"Knowing how much time and effort and resources have gone into healing the ozone layer, and to see this is a shocker, frankly", said Montzka.

This treaty saw the production of CFCs, including CFC-11, banned in developed countries in the mid 1990s and in the rest of the world by 2010. This led the researchers to posit that someone might be indulging in the production of the chemical.

But there a growing scientific doubts about the progress of healing in the ozone hole. Rather, the evidence "strongly suggests" a new source of emissions, the scientists wrote.

However, a new study published this week in the journal Nature revealed that contrary to what is expected upon the banning of CFC-11 production, the harmful emissions are on the rise again, as the rate of CFC-11 decline in the atmosphere has been cut by 50 percent since 2012. CFC-11 was once commonly used in insulating foams, but it's now banned under the Montreal Protocol and reported production is close to zero.




To be clear, CFC-11 concentrations in the atmosphere are still declining, but they're declining significantly more slowly because of the possible new source as compared to if there was none.

"It's the most surprising and unexpected observation I've made in my 27 years" of measurements, said study lead author Stephen Montzka, a research chemist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. I think this will be quite a shock to many people who, like me, thought the Montreal Protocol was working well'. "We know of no production even for intermediary or side products".

And it seems to be new production on a huge scale. The chemical can be a byproduct in other chemical manufacturing, but it is supposed to be captured and recycled.

Nearly no CFC-11 has been been produced since 2006 - or so we thought.

"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".

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