New discovery could pave the way for identification of rogue CFC release

September 2, 2010
University of East Anglia researchers Dr Jan Kaiser (right) and BSc project student Martin Martin in their simulated stratosphere laboratory. Credit: University of East Anglia

A new discovery by scientists at the Universities of East Anglia and Frankfurt could make it possible in future to identify the source of banned CFCs that are probably still being released into the atmosphere.

Using mass spectrometers, the researchers analysed air samples collected in the by balloons belonging to the French space agency, the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES). They discovered the largest chlorine isotope enrichment ever found in nature.

CFCs were banned in most countries because of their depletion of the . Due to their long lifetimes, their atmospheric concentrations are expected to decline only slowly. However, the observed decline is even slower than what scientists predicted. The likely reasons for this are the continued use of CFCs and emissions from old refrigerators, air conditioning units and waste disposal.

"We are particularly excited by this discovery because this is a totally new observation for atmospheric chlorine," said Johannes Laube, of the University of East Anglia's School of Environmental Sciences.

Scientists at the University of East Anglia have used mass spectrometers to analyze air samples collected in the stratosphere by these balloons. Their discovery could make it possible in future to identify the source of banned CFCs that are probably still being released into the atmosphere. They also discovered the largest chlorine isotope enrichment ever found in nature. Credit: Andreas Engel

"Potentially, the technique we developed could enable us to identify remaining sources of CFCs in the atmosphere and to measure human contributions to naturally occurring ozone-depleting gases."

The measurements were obtained from samples brought back by the stratospheric balloons, but the research group has now started experiments in a laboratory where they replicate the reactions in the stratosphere.

"We try to measure the isotope effect in our laboratory in simulated stratospheric conditions," says Dr Jan Kaiser, also of the School of Environmental Sciences. "We do need to do more method development work and gather additional information before we can identify the fingerprint of the isotope in this way, but this discovery opens the door to that possibility."

Explore further: Satellite instrument helps tackle mysteries of ozone-eating clouds

More information: Their findings are published in this week's Science. 'Chlorine isotope fractionation in the stratosphere' was authored by J. C. Laube, J. Kaiser, W. T. Sturges, H. Bönisch and A. Engel

Related Stories

Satellites provide new insight into ozone-depleting species

February 25, 2009

Using data from the satellite-based MIPAS and GOME-2 instruments, scientists have for the first time detected important bromine species in the atmosphere. These new measurements will help scientists to better understand sources ...

Study Finds Clock Ticking Slower On Ozone Hole Recovery

June 30, 2006

The Antarctic ozone hole's recovery is running late. According to a new NASA study, the full return of the protective ozone over the South Pole will take nearly 20 years longer than scientists previously expected.

Recommended for you

Mountain glaciers shrinking across the West

October 22, 2017

Until recently, glaciers in the United States have been measured in two ways: placing stakes in the snow, as federal scientists have done each year since 1957 at South Cascade Glacier in Washington state; or tracking glacier ...

Carbon coating gives biochar its garden-greening power

October 20, 2017

For more than 100 years, biochar, a carbon-rich, charcoal-like substance made from oxygen-deprived plant or other organic matter, has both delighted and puzzled scientists. As a soil additive, biochar can store carbon and ...

Cool roofs have water saving benefits too

October 20, 2017

The energy and climate benefits of cool roofs have been well established: By reflecting rather than absorbing the sun's energy, light-colored roofs keep buildings, cities, and even the entire planet cooler. Now a new study ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.