There's been a mysterious rise in ozone-destroying emissions

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

The 1987 Montreal Protocol phased out ozone-damaging chemicals like CFC-11 worldwide.

Unless the culprit is found and stopped, the recovery of the ozone layer, which protects life on Earth from damaging UV radiation, could be delayed by a decade. 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.

Widely used in 1970s and 1980s as propellant in aerosol sprays, as well as in refrigeration and air conditioning systems, CFCs do not exist in nature.

Trichlorofluoromethane, or CFC-11, is the second-most abundant ozone-depleting gas in the atmosphere and a member of the family of chemicals most responsible for the giant hole in the ozone layer that forms over Antarctica each September.

"I've been making these measurements for more than 30 years, and this is the most surprising thing I've seen", said Stephen Montzka, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who led the work. "I was just shocked by it".

"We're raising a flag to the global community to say, 'This is what's going on, and it is taking us away from timely recovery from ozone depletion, '" said NOAA scientist Stephen Montzka, lead author of the paper, which has co-authors from CIRES, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. "It's therefore critical that we identify the precise causes of these emissions and take the necessary action". A research letter published Wednesday in the journal Nature takes a look at the possible causes for the spike. 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.

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Nearly no CFC-11 has been been produced since 2006 - or so we thought. But they ruled this out too, as the quantities involved are too high, representing a 25% rise in global emissions.

Either someone's making the banned compound or it's sloppy byproducts that haven't been reported as required, Montzka said. "If it doesn't go away, there could be a 10-year delay, and if it continued to increase, the delay would be even longer".

She said: "The study highlights that environmental regulations can not be taken for granted and must be safe-guarded, and that monitoring is required to ensure compliance".

"This is atmospheric detective work at its finest", said Piers Forester, head of the Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds.

David Doniger, director of the climate and clean energy program of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group in Washington, said the new emissions were "bad for the ozone layer and bad for climate change".

Montzka said the world's nations are committed to its enforcement.

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