Published: Thu, May 17, 2018
Research | By Derrick Holloway

Ozone-Destroying Emissions Are on the Rise But Scientists Don't Know Why

Ozone-Destroying Emissions Are on the Rise But Scientists Don't Know Why

The production of ozone layer-depleting CFC-11 was completely halted in 2010 since the Montreal Protocol was signed in 1987. Production was banned, emissions fell and the hole shriveled.

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.

It's tough to narrow down a specific culprit, but the NOAA can make distinctions between emissions from the northern and southern hemispheres, and the sudden uptick in CFC-11 seems to be coming from the northern hemisphere.

CFC-11 is an ozone-depleting chemical whose phase out agreed upon in the '80s and has been under an global ban since 2010.

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In the 20th century scientists discovered that CFC emissions were causing enormous holes in this layer over the poles - driving global warming and sea level rises. "These considerations suggest that the increased CFC-11 emissions arise from new production not reported to [the U.N. Environment Program's] Ozone Secretariat, which is inconsistent with the agreed phase-out of CFC production in the Montreal Protocol by 2010", the researchers wrote. CFC-11, used as a refrigerant, is considered the second most damaging of the chemicals phased out under the 1987 Montreal Protocol, The US stopped making it in 1996 and worldwide production had reached nearly zero by 2007.

"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. "Emissions today are about the same as they were almost 20 years ago".

But we aren't. CFC-11 levels dropped some 2.1 ppt (parts-per-trillion) each year between 2002 and 2012.

Despite the increase in CFC-11 emissions, its concentration in the atmosphere continues to decrease, but only about half as fast as the decline observed a few years ago, and at a substantially slower rate than expected. The study's results suggest that someone's breaking the rules of the agreement. The chemical can be a byproduct in other chemical manufacturing, but it is supposed to be captured and recycled.

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Montzka said the most likely scenario is someone is producing new CFC-11. CFC can still be leaked when old refrigerators are scrapped, for example. "We don't know why the source 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", he said. Scientists say that in the atmosphere becomes greater, the source to determine they can't.

"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. If not, our ozone layer's fragile recovery could be under threat. "In the end, we concluded that it's most likely that someone may be producing the CFC11 that's escaping to the atmosphere", he said.

"The increase in emission of CFC-11 appears unrelated to past production".

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