Unknown source ramps up ozone-destroying CFC production

An image provided by NOAA shows the hole in the ozone layer in 2015. NOAA scientists now say emissions of one ozone-depleting chemical appear to be rising even though the chemical has been banned and reported production has essentially been at zero for

CFC-11 was originally used as a refrigerant but was banned in 1987 under the Montreal Protocol, the global agreement created to protect the ozone layer.

"They do point in that direction, fairly definitively", Dr Stephen Montzka from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) told BBC News. "In fact, I was amazed by this". The discovery is likely to encourage the global investigation of a mysterious source. '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. But with rising emissions, scientists suspect that someone is making a chemical substance in spite of the ban. But if the problem is allowed to persist, it could jeopardize ozone layer recovery and worsen climate change.

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. A USA 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.

This treaty saw the production of CFCs, including CFC-11, banned in developed countries in the mid 1990s and in the rest of the world by 2010.

Today, the "hole in the ozone" over the South Pole is showing clear signs of recovery. It is thought that about 13,000 tonnes a year has been released since 2013. '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. 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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"I hope that somehow the worldwide community can put pressure on South East Asian countries, maybe China, to go and look at whether they can get more information on where the emissions come from". The researchers have said they would need more measurements to figure the exact location of the source and take necessary action.

"If these emissions continue unabated, they have the potential to slow down the recovery of the ozone layer", Weller said in a statement.

Plus, it isn't just CFC-11 that was found to be increasing. This insults everybody who's worked on this for the last 30 years.

Overall, it is important to underscore that the ozone layer is slowly recovering and ozone-depleting substances are still declining. In 2012, however, the rate of decline suddenly reduced by about 50% - indicating that new source of production had started up.

"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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