Published: Thu, May 17, 2018
Research | By Jennifer Evans

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

By 2010, the production of trichlorofluoromethane (CFC-11), the second most abundant CFC controlled by the Montreal Protocol, was believed to be completely halted. This led the researchers to posit that someone might be indulging in the production of the chemical.

The most likely source, according to the study, is from new, unreported production from an unidentified source in East Asia. Since these compounds take an impressively long time to break down in the atmosphere, monitoring systems were set in place to make sure everything went smoothly. Reports a year ago indicated that production of new chlorine containing chemicals could cause significant delay.

The regulations were initially reflected by the data, with the amounts detected in the atmosphere sinking at a constant rate between 2002 and 2012. However, since 2012, this decline has slowed by around 50%.

It is possible that the increased emissions could be due to older buildings being demolished, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

"I do measurement for more than 30 years, and this is the most awesome thing I have seen, said Steven Monda (Stephen Montzka), a scientist from the National oceanic and atmospheric administration, who led this work".

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.

They also modelled the movement of air masses reaching the Mauna Loa observatory, and correlated levels of CFC-11 to other chemicals associated with anthropogenic emissions.

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"It's disappointing, I would not have expected it to happen", said Dr Michaela Hegglin from Reading University, UK, who was not involved in the study.

"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".

And while the treaty has typically been abided by over the years, as evident by the gradually reforming ozone, a team of researchers found evidence that somebody is producing large amounts of CFC-11 without telling anybody. But an analysis of long-term atmospheric measurements suggests it's still being made somewhere in East Asia-and that means the concentrations of CFC-11 in the atmosphere are declining more slowly than they should be. "They should tell the industries that's not going to work".

However, if no action is taken on the new source of emissions, it could be highly significant.

But if the emissions of CFC-11 continue, recovery could be delayed by about a decade, said Stephen A. Montzka, the lead author of a report detailing the findings published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

With the global 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.

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