Scientists probe suspicious rise in CFCs

Ozone Layer depletion

Ozone Layer depletion

Emissions of one of the chemicals most responsible for the Antarctic ozone hole are on the rise, despite an worldwide treaty that required an end to its production in 2010, a new NOAA study shows.

The finding that the destruction of ozone was creating a large "hole" over the Antarctic led to the signing of the Montreal Protocol in 1987.

The scientists say that the increase is likely a result of new, unreported production of the gas, known as CFC-11, probably in East Asia. And thanks to the agreement, we've avoided a total ozone layer collapse by mid-century.

So where exactly are these increased emissions coming from?

Widely used in 1970s and 1980s as propellant in aerosol sprays, as well as in refrigeration and air conditioning systems, CFCs do not exist in nature.

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. CFC can still be leaked when old refrigerators are scrapped, for example. Some seeps out of foam and buildings and machines, but scientists say what they're seeing is much more than that. Rather, the evidence "strongly suggests" a new source of emissions, the scientists wrote.

The study authors point out that while CFC-11 can persist in the atmosphere for 50 years, the overall level of chlorine atoms is still declining. Then, surprisingly, the rate of decline hardly changed over the decade that followed.

Exploring further, the researchers found the concentration of CFC-11 to be unusually high in the Northern Hemisphere.

Measurements from Hawaii indicate the sources of the increasing emissions are likely in eastern Asia.

While the new analysis can't definitively explain why emissions of CFC11 are increasing, but Montzka suspects covert production.

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.

Today, from its peak in 1993, CFC-11 concentrations have declined by 15 percent. That speculation is due to increased CFC-11 emissions, a big issue that could delay ozone restoration efforts and contribute to a warming planet.

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". Use of the chemical was banned in 2010 via the Montreal Protocol, an global agreement made to protect the environment.

"It is therefore imperative that this finding be discussed at the next Ministerial meeting of Governments given recovery of the ozone layer is dependent on all countries complying with the Montreal Protocol (and its adjustments and amendments) with emissions globally dropping to zero".

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