Scientists uncover likely cheating on ozone treaty

Image of the largest Antarctic ozone hole ever recorded, over the Southern pole

Emissions of one of the chemicals most responsible for the Antarctic ozone hole are on the rise, despite an worldwide treaty that required an end to its production in 2010, a new NOAA study shows. Global production of CFC-11, which has been used as a refrigerant and in insulating foams, has been banned since 2010 under the Montreal Protocol. The startling resurgence of the chemical, reported in Nature, will likely spark an global investigation to track down the mysterious source.

The slowdown in reduction of CFC-11 also has implications for the fight against climate change.

The 1987 Montreal Protocol banned industrial aerosols such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that were chemically dissolving ozone, especially above Antarctica. A research letter published Wednesday in the journal Nature takes a look at the possible causes for the spike.

"A timely recovery of the stratospheric ozone layer depends on a sustained decline of CFC-11 concentrations", the wrote. This conclusion was confirmed by other changes recorded in NOAA's measurements during the same period, such as a widening difference between CFC-11 concentrations in the northern and southern hemispheres - evidence that the new source was somewhere north of the equator.

CFC-11 still contributes about a quarter of all chlorine - the chemical that triggers the breakdown of ozone - reaching the stratosphere.

If the source of these new emissions can be identified and controlled soon, the damage to the ozone layer should be minor, Montzka said.

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CFC-11, used primarily for foams, can last up to 50 years in the atmosphere once it is released.

A simple model analysis of our findings suggests an increase in CFC-11 emissions ... despite reported production being close to zero4 since 2006 ...

"The analysis of these extremely precise and accurate atmospheric measurements is an excellent example of the vigilance needed to ensure continued compliance with provisions of the Montreal Protocol and protection of the Earth's ozone layer", Fahey said.

Keith Weller, a spokesman for the United Nations Environment Program, which helps implement the protocol, said the findings would be presented to the parties to the agreement for review. "It's therefore critical that we identify the precise causes of these emissions and take the necessary action".

The USA ceased production in 1996 and other countries agreed to phase out CFC production by 2010. "But we don't know of any folks who are destroying buildings at a much more dramatic rate than they were before", said Montzka.

A study earlier this year found that the ozone layer is unexpectedly declining in the lower stratosphere - 10 to 24 kilometers above sea level - over the planet's populated tropical and mid-latitude regions. However, that decrease is significantly slower than it would be without the new CFC emissions.

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