Unknown source ramps up ozone-destroying CFC production

Antarctic ozone hole area 2015. Image NASA

Antarctic ozone hole area 2015. Image NASA

"We're raising the flag to say, look, this is not what we hope happens for the ozone layer", said Dr. Montzka, a research chemist at the Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "In fact, I was amazed by this". The discovery is likely to encourage the worldwide investigation of a mysterious source. Though production of CFCs was phased out by the Montreal Protocol, a large reservoir of CFC-11 exists today primarily contained in foam insulation in buildings, and appliances manufactured before the mid-1990s.

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. Rather, the evidence "strongly suggests" a new source of emissions, the scientists wrote.

He calls it "rogue production", adding that if it continues "the recovery of the ozone layer would be threatened".

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.

Plus, it isn't just CFC-11 that was found to be increasing.

Precise measurements of global atmospheric concentrations of CFC-11 made by NOAA and CIRES scientists at 12 remote sites around the globe show that CFC-11 concentrations declined at an accelerating rate prior to 2002 as expected.

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CFCs and other molecules have mainly eroded ozone in the upper stratosphere, and over the poles.

The Montreal Protocol, signed by more than 200 countries and generally regarded as having a good record of compliance, is created to protect the Earth's ozone layer.

Unreported production of CFC-11 outside of certain specific carve-out purposes in the treaty would be a "violation of global law", Weller confirmed, though he said that the Protocol is "non-punitive" and the remedy would probably involve a negotiation with the offending party, or country. Use of the chemical was banned in 2010 via the Montreal Protocol, an worldwide agreement made to protect the environment. "It is therefore, critical that we take stock of this science, identify the causes of these emissions and take necessary action".

"They're going to find the culprits".

"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. But if the problem is allowed to persist, it could jeopardize ozone layer recovery and worsen climate change.

Nature removes 2 percent of the CFC11 out of the air each year, so concentrations of the chemical in the atmosphere are still falling, but at a slower rate because of the new emissions, Montzka said.

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