Science

Mysterious rise in emissions of ozone-damaging chemical

Mysterious rise in emissions of ozone-damaging chemical

That speculation is due to increased CFC-11 emissions, a big issue that could delay ozone restoration efforts and contribute to a warming planet.

CFC11 is the second-most abundant ozone-depleting gas in the atmosphere because of its long life and continuing emissions from a large reservoir of the chemical in foam building insulation and appliances manufactured before the mid-1990s.

But there a growing scientific doubts about the progress of healing in the ozone hole.

Officially, the production of CFC-11 should be near zero or nearly zero - at least, those are the countries that cooperate with the United Nations body that monitors and ensures compliance with the Montreal Protocol. Rather, the evidence "strongly suggests" a new source of emissions, the scientists wrote. But from 2012 onwards the decline in CFC-11 has been 50% slower than expected.

In 2013, plumes of air containing elevated levels of CFC-11 were detected at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii. Some scientists speculate that the substance is likely being produced in East Asia.

"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 think this will be quite a shock to many people who, like me, thought the Montreal Protocol was working well'.

"Any production of an ozone-depleting gas that's controlled by the Montreal Protocol has to be reported to the ozone secretariat, and, currently, global production is essentially zero".

"We don't know why they might be doing that and if it is being made for some specific objective, or inadvertently as a side product of some other chemical process".




And it seems to be new production on a huge scale.

They point to the fact that since the production of these chemicals was ended over eight years ago, any industry that was involved in this work would have transitioned to other substances. "There's a reasonable chance we'll figure out what's happening here", he said.

"In the end, we concluded that it's most likely that someone may be producing the CFC-11 that's escaping to the atmosphere", said Montzka.

"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".

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

"They're going to find the culprits". However, that decrease is significantly slower than it would be without the new CFC emissions.

David Doniger, director of the climate and clean energy program of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group in Washington, said the new emissions were "bad for the ozone layer and bad for climate change".

With the worldwide community agreeing further, significant phase-outs in Kigali, in 2016, the researchers say early-warning, air-monitoring systems will be an essential part of the future policing of emissions.