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

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

Emissions of a banned, ozone-depleting chemical are on the rise, a group of scientists reported Wednesday, suggesting someone may be secretly manufacturing the pollutant in violation of an global accord.

The new analysis of atmospheric measurements show that from 2014 to 2016, emissions of CFC11 increased by 25% above the average measured from 2002 to 2012.

Measurements at remote sites of the chemical, known as CFC-11, point to East Asia as the source or renewed production.

While the source of the causative chemical, trichlorofluoromethane (CFC-11) is yet unknown, the finding is likely to trigger a global investigation to determine exactly where it is being released from, and who is responsible for it. This is why scientists were so shocked to discover a rise in levels of the world's second most damaging chemical.

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. The gas was widely used in aerosol sprays, packing materials, and refrigerants, but due to the ozone hole over Antartica, its production was phased out completely by 2010.

Michaela Hegglin, at the University of Reading, UK, and not part of the research team said researchers had taken rigorous steps to rule out alternative explanations for the rise in CFC-11 when reaching their conclusion that new production must be occurring. It is only destroyed in the stratosphere, some 9 to 18 miles above the planet's surface, where the resulting chlorine molecules engage in a string of ozone-destroying chemical reactions.

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The ozone layer protects the Earth from the sun's harmful UV radiation.

Only past year, NASA announced that the global effort to restore the depleting ozone layer was finally paying off. As all countries in the world agreed to stall production of ozone damaging gases, the remaining stores were expected to be released into the atmosphere and subsequently diminish, and the ozone hole was expected to recover.

"It is important to note that these findings also highlight the efficacy of the Montreal Protocol, its institutions and mechanisms, with science at their core".

The issue involves a gas called CFC-11, a chlorofluorocarbon that contributes to the depletion of the ozone layer.

If the source of these new emissions can be identified and controlled soon, the damage to the ozone layer should be minor, Montzka said. If not, our ozone layer's fragile recovery could be under threat. However, starting in 2013, emissions of CFC11 have been rising again, according to a study by a team at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, published in Nature magazine. "If it doesn't go away, there could be a 10-year delay, and if it continued to increase, the delay would be even longer".

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