The article is based on the research paper “On the effects of the ocean on atmospheric CFC-11 lifetimes and emissions” published by PNAS on March 23, 2021
The world’s oceans are a vast repository for gases including ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs. They absorb these gases from the atmosphere and draw them down to the deep, where they can remain sequestered for centuries and more.
Marine CFCs have long been used as tracers to study ocean currents, but their impact on atmospheric concentrations was assumed to be negligible. Now, MIT researchers have found the oceanic fluxes of at least one type of CFC, known as CFC-11, do in fact affect atmospheric concentrations. In a study appearing today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team reports that the global ocean will reverse its longtime role as a sink for the potent ozone-depleting chemical.
The researchers project that by the year 2075, the oceans will emit more CFC-11 back into the atmosphere than they absorb, emitting detectable amounts of the chemical by 2130. Further, with increasing climate change, this shift will occur 10 years earlier. The emissions of CFC-11 from the ocean will effectively extend the chemical’s average residence time, causing it to linger five years longer in the atmosphere than it otherwise would. This may impact future estimations of CFC-11 emissions.
The new results may help scientists and policymakers better pinpoint future sources of the chemical, which is now banned worldwide under the Montreal Protocol.
“By the time you get to the first half of the 22nd century, you’ll have enough of a flux coming out of the ocean that it might look like someone is cheating on the Montreal Protocol, but instead, it could just be what’s coming out of the ocean,” says study co-author Susan Solomon, the Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Studies in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. “It’s an interesting prediction and hopefully will help future researchers avoid getting confused about what’s going on.”
Solomon’s co-authors include lead author Peidong Wang, Jeffery Scott, John Marshall, Andrew Babbin, Megan Lickley, and Ronald Prinn from MIT; David Thompson of Colorado State University; Timothy DeVries of the University of California at Santa Barbara; and Qing Liang of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.