Newly detected ozone-depleting substances in the atmosphere

Ozone-depleting substances emitted through human activities cause large-scale damage to the stratospheric ozone layer, and influence global climate.

Consequently, the production of many of these substances has been phased out; prominent examples are the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and their intermediate replacements, the hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs).

So far, seven types of CFC and six types of HCFC have been shown to contribute to stratospheric ozone destruction.

Here, we report the detection and quantification of a further three CFCs and one HCFC. We analysed the composition of unpolluted air samples collected in Tasmania between 1978 and 2012, and extracted from deep firn snow in Greenland in 2008, using gas chromatography with mass spectrometric detection.

Using the firn data, we show that all four compounds started to emerge in the atmosphere in the 1960s.

Two of the compounds continue to accumulate in the atmosphere.

We estimate that, before 2012, emissions of all four compounds combined amounted to more than 74,000 tonnes.

This is small compared with peak emissions of other CFCs in the 1980s of more than one million tonnes each year.

However, the reported emissions are clearly contrary to the intentions behind the Montreal Protocol, and raise questions about the sources of these gases.

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