Banned ozone-destroying chemical makes a mysterious resurgence

Some posters drawn by school children in India urging action to repair the ozone layer

Some posters drawn by school children in India urging action to repair the ozone layer

Staff at the South Pole get ready to release a balloon that will carry an ozone instrument up to 20 miles in the atmosphere, measuring ozone levels all along the. "I was astounded by it, really".

The protocol was a huge success, slowly shrinking the giant hole that forms over Antarctica each September.

The finding seems likely to prompt an global investigation into the mysterious source. Recognised as an ozone depleter under the Montreal Protocol, R11 was banned along with other common CFC refrigerants R12 and R502. But with emissions on the rise, scientists suspect someone is making the chemical in defiance of the ban.

"It's worrisome that someone's cheating", he said. A US observatory in Hawaii found CFC-11 mixed in with other gases that were characteristic of a source coming from somewhere in eastern Asia, but scientists could not narrow the area down any further.

Today, from its peak in 1993, CFC-11 concentrations have declined by 15 percent.

The research was led by USA researchers with NOAA, with help from scientists in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. A research letter published Wednesday in the journal Nature takes a look at the possible causes for the spike.

"The newer substances that are out there, the replacements for CFC-11, might be more hard or expensive for some countries to produce or get at".

They considered a range of alternative explanations for the growth, such as a change in atmospheric patterns that gradually remove CFC gases in the stratosphere, an increase in the rate of demolition of buildings containing old residues of CFC-11, or accidental production.

The researchers have calculated that an additional 6,500 to 13,000 tons emitted each year in Eastern Asia would be enough to account for the trend. Rather, the evidence "strongly suggests" a new source of emissions, the scientists wrote.


Researchers at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have noticed an unexpected and persistent increase in ozone-destroying chemicals, called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

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.

But "continued increase in global CFC-11 emissions will put that progress at risk".

Watson suggested that aircraft flights might be necessary to better identify the source of the emissions.

David Fahey, director of NOAA " s Chemical Science Division and co-chair of the United Nations Environment Programme's Ozone Secretariat 's Science Advisory Panel, said ongoing monitoring of the atmosphere will be key to ensuring that the goal of restoring the ozone layer is achieved.

If the source of these new emissions can be identified and controlled soon, the damage to the ozone layer should be minor, Montzka said. Once widely used as a foaming agent, production of CFC-11 was phased out by the Montreal Protocol in 2010.

"This treaty can not afford not to follow its tradition and keep its compliance record", he said. "They should tell the industries that's not going to work". "That's a tough group of people".

A study earlier this year found that the ozone layer is unexpectedly declining in the lower stratosphere - 10 to 24 km above sea level - over the planet's populated tropical and mid-latitude regions. This, in turn, will delay the ozone layer's recovery and, in the meantime, leave it more vulnerable to other threats.

Despite the increase in CFC-11 emissions, its concentration in the atmosphere continues to decrease, but only about half as fast as the decline observed a few years ago, and at a substantially slower rate than expected.

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