Banned ozone-destroying chemical makes a mysterious resurgence

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

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.

"I've been making these measurements for more than 30 years, and this is the most surprising thing I've seen", the paper's lead author, Stephen Montzka, told The Washington Post's Chris Mooney. "I was astounded by it really".

This is a great failure of the so-called global environmental success, in which countries, alarmed by the growing "ozone hole" have collectively taken measures to phase out chlorofluorocarbons. The startling resurgence of the chemical, reported in Nature, will likely spark an worldwide investigation to track down the mysterious source.

Under the Montreal Protocol, the world agreed to begin phasing out CFC-11, ending its production altogether by 2010. But with rising emissions, scientists suspect that someone is making a chemical substance in spite of the ban.

"It's worrisome that someone's cheating", he said.

Montzka told the BBC that the data points "fairly definitively" towards Eastern Asia, somewhere around China, Mongolia and the Koreas. A research letter published Wednesday in the journal Nature takes a look at the possible causes for the spike. "Further work is needed to figure out exactly why emissions of CFC11 are increasing, and if something can be done about it soon". 'The increase in emission of CFC-11 appears unrelated to past production; this suggests unreported new production, which is inconsistent with the Montreal Protocol, ' Montzka and colleagues conclude.

He adds that the results could have "huge implications" for ozone recovery. The substance is also a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

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

Pictured, the Antarctic ozone hole, located above the South Pole.

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.

Despite the resistance to fighting climate change that we still have to deal with, some aspects of our planet are improving due to global efforts to reduce our impact - namely, the ozone layer is finally reforming.

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

In response to these new reports, the United Nations Environment Programme released a statement, highlighting the efficacy of the Montreal Protocol with science at its very core. The Montreal Protocol's Scientific Assessment Panel estimates that with implementation of the Montreal Protocol we can expect near complete recovery of the ozone layer by the middle of the 21st century. Though concentrations of CFC11 in the atmosphere are still declining, they're declining more slowly than they would if there were no new sources, Montzka said.

"This treaty can not afford not to follow its tradition and keep its compliance record", he said. "That's a tough group of people". But from 2012 onwards the decline in CFC-11 has been 50% slower than expected. This, in turn, will delay the ozone layer's recovery, and in the meantime leave it more vulnerable to other threats.

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