January 23, 2019

Banned ozone-destroying chemical makes a mysterious resurgence

17 May 2018, 06:41 | Dale Webster

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

An illustration of the Earth's ozone layers and atmosphere surrounded by smoke

"This is the most surprising and unexpected thing that I've observed in 27 years of making these measurements", said Steve Montzka, a research chemist at NOAA and lead author of the paper. "I was astounded by it really".

When a hole in the ozone formed over Antarctica, countries around the world in 1987 agreed to phase out several types of ozone-depleting chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons. The startling resurgence of the chemical, reported in Nature, will likely spark an global investigation to track down the mysterious source.

However, a study recently published in Nature reveals that CFC-11 production may be happening somewhere in the world despite the Montreal Protocol.

"It's worrisome that someone's cheating", he said.

Measurements at remote sites - including the government-run Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii - of the chemical, known as CFC-11, point to East Asia as the source or renewed production.

Zaelke said he was surprised by the findings, not just because the chemical has always been banned, but also because alternatives already exist, making it hard to imagine what the market for CFC-11 today would be.

Plus, it isn't just CFC-11 that was found to be increasing.

The slowdown in reduction of CFC-11 also has implications for the fight against climate change. It is thought that about 13,000 tonnes a year has been released since 2013.

The standard reference for CFC concentrations, the United Nations Environment Program's Handbook for the Montreal Protocol, reported in its 2012 edition that production of CFC-11 was very close to zero.

A bucket full of empty aerosol cans from the 1990s waiting for proper disposal
Aerosols were a common source of CFCs through the 1990s

CFCs and other molecules have mainly eroded ozone in the upper stratosphere, and over the poles. That loss of ozone, in turn, weakens our protection from UV radiation at the Earth's surface.

That has led scientists to predict that by mid- to late-century, the abundance of ozone-depleting gases would to fall to levels last seen before the Antarctic ozone hole began to appear in the early 1980s.

"This evidence strongly suggests increased CFC-11 emissions from eastern Asia after 2012".

Two years after the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer above the Antarctic in 1985, the Montreal Protocol was signed, an worldwide treaty which introduced restrictions on the production of CFCs.

Watson suggested that aircraft flights might be necessary to better identify the source of the emissions.

"If these emissions continue unabated, they have the potential to slow down the recovery of the ozone layer", Weller said in a statement.

"A timely recovery of the stratospheric ozone layer depends on a sustained decline of CFC-11 concentrations", the wrote.

"They're going to find the culprits. That's a tough group of people". If not remedied soon, however, substantial delays in ozone layer recovery could be expected.

But in 2012 scientists noted that the rate of decline had slowed by 50 per cent, according to the new study.

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