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Ozone Depleting Gas Declines After Rising For Years

Science
"Weather balloons carry ozone-measuring sondes that directly sample ozone levels vertically through the atmosphere." phys.org / NOAA

An ozone depleting gas is on the decline after rising since 2012, according to preliminary data reported by scientists yesterday, as the New York Times reported.


Scientists were previously shocked to learn that levels of a banned gas, the most abundant form of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) known as CFC-11, which was supposed to have been worldwide production stop by 2010 was actually on the rise again. The gas is partly responsible for degrading the ozone layer and creating a hole that hovers over Antarctica every September, according to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Researchers from NOAA published a paper in the journal Nature last year that pinpointed an area in eastern China where unreported production of the gas was taking place. They found that from 2014 to 2016, emissions of CFC-11 increased by 25 percent above the average measured from 2002 to 2012. "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 of the ozone layer,'" said NOAA Scientist Stephen Montzka, the study's lead author, in a NOAA press release in 2018. "Further work is needed to figure out exactly why emissions of CFC-11 are increasing, and if something can be done about it soon."

If the emissions increase went unabated, NOAA said that it would impede progress in restoring the ozone layer, which protects all of life on Earth from harmful solar radiation, as the New York Times reported.

Another paper published this spring found that 40 to 60 percent of global emissions were coming from two provinces in the eastern part of mainland China.

The new findings suggest that China has made significant headway in curtailing illegal production of the gas, which is used to make insulating foams, as the New York Times reported.

The new data was presented in Rome by a NOAA scientist, Montka. CFCs were first banned in 1987 at the Montreal Protocol, which is largely considered the most successful environmental pact in history. The success of phasing out production of CFCs as refrigerants and aerosol propellants has led to a remarkable recovery of the ozone layer, which may be fully restored by the middle of this century, according to the New York Times.

Signatories of that protocol are holding their annual meeting this week in Rome and CFCs are on the agenda once again.

"The good news is, the report this morning shows emissions now going down significantly," said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, a research and advocacy organization based in Washington DC, as the New York Times reported.

For its part, China, which initially denied that its factories used CFC-11, walked back that position and submitted a report that detailed how it has ramped up monitoring and enforcement efforts, given inspectors equipment to instantly detect the presence of CFC-11, and built six regional testing laboratories. It also detailed the destruction of three factories that were producing CFC-11, as the New York Times reported.

"China is clearly taking the issue very seriously and responding well," said Zaelke to the New York Times. "But that's not where the story ends."

He added that the Chinese report leaves unanswered questions about where the illegal emissions are coming from and how to stop them in the future.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.