Banned ozone-destroying chemical makes a mysterious resurgence

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

Stephen Montzka from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a team of colleagues report that after a long and predicted decline, production of trichlorofluoromethane (CFC-11) - a substance responsible for the second largest destructive impact on the ozone layer - suddenly and mysteriously increased in 2012 and has continued to do so ever since. The researchers' modelling indicates that since 2012 CFC-11 pumped into the atmosphere has increased by 13 gigagrams - 13,000 tonnes - per year. "I was astounded by it really".

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. However, in 1987, an worldwide team of scientists proved that the emissions of such chemicals were actually harming the environment, particularly the ozone layer. "There's some slight possibility there's an unintentional release, but. they make it clear there's strong evidence this is actually being produced". A US 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. Their results were published in the journal Nature.

Under the Montreal Protocol, the world agreed to begin phasing out CFC-11, ending its production altogether by 2010. CFC can still be leaked when old refrigerators are scrapped, for example. A new study finds that global CFC-11 emissions are on the rise again, suggesting that production of the banned chemicals continues from an unidentified source.

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

The ozone layer is crucial for sustaining life on Earth.

According to global CFC-11 levels measured by scientists at NOAA and Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), the concentration of the chemical declined at an accelerating rate till 2002, but then, the fall became stagnant for nearly a decade.

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The issue involves a gas called CFC-11, a chlorofluorocarbon that contributes to the depletion of the ozone layer. Together, this analysis suggested the emissions are coming from east Asia.

That said, if the prompt action isn't taken as soon as possible, these emissions can prove to be a major roadblock and delay the recovery of ozone.

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 treaty can not afford not to follow its tradition and keep its compliance record", he said. "They should tell the industries that's not going to work".

But in the last few years, it looks like someone has started cheating. "That's a tough group of people". But the researchers noticed the rate at which it is declining appeared to be slowing down. However, since 2012, this decline has slowed by around 50%. 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.

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