Tuesday, 22 May, 2018

Scientists 'Astounded' by Mysterious Rise in Banned Chemical

Ozone layer GETTYThe ozone layer protects the Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation
Velma Reese | 17 May, 2018, 16:00

The ozone layer, a fragile shield of gas, protects animal and plant life on Earth from powerful UV rays.

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 worldwide accord.

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.

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. 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. 'The decline in CFC-11 is the graph that we all show in our atmospheric chemistry lectures to illustrate the effectiveness of the ban on CFCs. 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.

Ozone layer
GETTYA Satellite map showing the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica in 1990

The researchers found that emissions of CFC-11 were between 2014 and 2016 up by a quarter from the average between 2002 and 2012.

The scientists said the deviation coincided with a rise in amounts of two other chemicals, chlorodifluoromethane and dichloromethane, suggesting they were all coming from the same source, though it was not clear exactly where they were being produced.

Scientists initially discovered the ozone hole in 1985, affected by the presence of CFCs in the atmosphere - they were used in various applications such as aerosol sprays and refrigerants - following which the Montreal Protocol was brought into effect to phase them out. 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. They found that the difference in CFC-11 concentrations between the northern and southern hemispheres has been increasing, which points to a northern hemisphere source. Production levels have been reported to be at zero by countries that are responsible to enforce the worldwide ban, notes the report. The statement also takes note of the importance of identifying the source of the emission increase, and taking the necessary actions against it. "They should tell the industries that's not going to work". "This will cause some delay in the recovery of the ozone layer from past depletion, but that recovery will still happen". Even more unexpected was that the rate of decline slowed by 50% after 2012.

"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.

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