Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Under-reported greenhouse gas statistics? Sketchy emission reports revealed by Swiss measurements

Date:
August 20, 2011
Source:
Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA)
Summary:
Fluorinated hydrocarbons are potent greenhouse gases, emission of which must be reduced under the Kyoto Protocol. If you rely on the official reports of the participating countries, the output of trifluoromethane (HFC-23) in Western Europe is indeed significantly decreasing. However, pollutant measurements carried out by researchers in Switzerland now reveal that several countries under-report their emissions. For instance, Italy emits 10 to 20 times more HFC-23 than it officially reports.

Jungfraujoch research station at 3580 metres above sea level.
Credit: Jungfrau Mountain Railways

Fluorinated hydrocarbons are potent greenhouse gases, emission of which must be reduced under the Kyoto Protocol. If you rely on the official reports of the participating countries, the output of trifluoromethane (HFC-23) in Western Europe is indeed significantly decreasing. However, pollutant measurements carried out by researchers at Switzerland's Empa now reveal that several countries under-report their emissions. For instance, Italy emits 10 to 20 times more HFC-23 than it officially reports.

Related Articles


International agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) basically have one snag: it is almost impossible to independently verify whether participating countries abide by the agreement. Thus the evaluation of whether or not the countries have achieved their reduction targets is based on the official reports by the countries that are signatories to the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). If they report reduced emissions they're sitting pretty; if not, they are pilloried.

This could change soon. Pollutant analyses by Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, -- at the Jungfraujoch research station at 3580 metres above sea level, among others -- using a special gas chromatograph mass spectrometer called 'MEDUSA' not only enables the emission levels of more than 50 halogenated GHG to be quickly and precisely evaluated; they also make it possible to identify the emission sources regionally, thanks to atmospheric and meteorological computer models. The sobering result: Western Europe emits around twice as much HFC-23 as officially reported. A corresponding study was recently published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

"Our results show that these types of measurements really are suitable for checking compliance with international agreements on air pollution control," says Empa researcher Stefan Reimann from the Air Pollution/Environmental Technology laboratory. It is true that the Kyoto Protocol did not specify any independent control mechanisms; this could, however, be of central importance in subsequent agreements with binding emission targets.

The usual suspects?

The suspicion that some countries have not been overly precise in reporting their GHG emissions has been around for some time; projections from measurements of the world-wide AGAGE network (Advanced Global Atmospheric Gases Experiment) showed significantly higher readings than officially reported. Reimann: "It was assumed that, above all, China and some developing countries did not correctly report their emissions levels."

For example emissions of HFC-23, with an atmospheric half life of approximately 270 years an extremely long-lived GHG -- and with a global warming potential 15,000 times greater than CO2 a particularly potent one. HFC-23 is produced as a by-product in the manufacture of chlorodifluoromethane (HCFC-22), which is used as a cooling and foaming agent and in Teflon production. The advantage of HFC-23 is that it is almost exclusively emitted by HCFC-22 manufacturers. And there were just six of them in Western Europe in 2008. Reimann: "That means we exactly know our point sources."

In order to estimate the HFC-23 amounts in the atmosphere over Western Europe as precisely as possible, Reimann and his doctoral student, Christoph Keller, analysed the HFC-23 emissions from July 2008 to July 2010 at both Jungfraujoch and Mace Head, an AGAGE measurement station on the west coast of Ireland. Time and again they found mysterious peaks, which far exceeded the average. Using atmospheric transport models, the Empa researchers were able to calculate where the polluted air masses originated that transported HFC-23 to Jungfraujoch -- first and foremost from Italy's sole HCFC-22 factory west of Milan.

'Clean' Italy: virtually HFC-23-free since 1996 -- according to the records

So far, so good. If it were not for the official figures from Italy, which did not report any appreciable HFC-23 emissions -- and that since 1996. An isolated case? Reimann and his team wanted to dig deeper. With financial support from the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), they evaluated HFC-23 figures for 2008 to 2010 throughout Western Europe and pinpointed the source regions. The emission figures approximately doubled those that had been reported -- whereby countries significantly differed in their 'reporting accuracy'. Alongside the 'front runner' Italy, also the Netherlands and Great Britain underestimated their HFC-23 emissions; France and Germany's figures, in contrast, lay within the reported values. And, to Reimann's delight, the computer model was able to identify all six HCFC-22 factories with great accuracy.

Overall the unreported amounts of 'Italian' HFC-23 could be calculated as 270,000 to 630,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent -- roughly corresponding to the annual CO2 emissions of a city of 75,000 inhabitants. "On the other hand, what is positive is that we can 'see' emission sources, which are located hundreds of kilometres away from Jungfraujoch," reflects Reimann. In order to be able to collect data such as these on a global scale, the network of measurement stations would have to expanded, above all in Eastern Europe and East Asia.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Christoph A. Keller, Dominik Brunner, Stephan Henne, Martin K. Vollmer, Simon O'Doherty, Stefan Reimann. Evidence for under-reported western European emissions of the potent greenhouse gas HFC-23. Geophysical Research Letters, 2011; 38 (15) DOI: 10.1029/2011GL047976

Cite This Page:

Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA). "Under-reported greenhouse gas statistics? Sketchy emission reports revealed by Swiss measurements." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 August 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110818132150.htm>.
Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA). (2011, August 20). Under-reported greenhouse gas statistics? Sketchy emission reports revealed by Swiss measurements. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110818132150.htm
Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA). "Under-reported greenhouse gas statistics? Sketchy emission reports revealed by Swiss measurements." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110818132150.htm (accessed October 31, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Friday, October 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

How A Chorus Led Scientists To A New Frog Species

How A Chorus Led Scientists To A New Frog Species

Newsy (Oct. 30, 2014) A frog noticed by a conservationist on New York's Staten Island has been confirmed as a new species after extensive study and genetic testing. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Hawaii Lava Approaching Village Road

Raw: Hawaii Lava Approaching Village Road

AP (Oct. 30, 2014) The lava flow on the Big Island of Hawaii was 225 yards from Pahoa Village Road on Wednesday night. The lava is slowing down but still approaching the village. (Oct. 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Endangered Carpathian Ponies Are Making a Comeback in Poland

Endangered Carpathian Ponies Are Making a Comeback in Poland

AFP (Oct. 29, 2014) At the foot of the rugged Carpathian mountains near the Polish-Ukrainian border, ranchers and scientists are trying to protect the Carpathian pony, known as the Hucul in Polish. Duration: 02:17 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Deadly Mudslide in Sri Lanka Buries Houses

Deadly Mudslide in Sri Lanka Buries Houses

AP (Oct. 29, 2014) A mudslide triggered by monsoon rains buried scores of workers' houses at a tea plantation in central Sri Lanka on Wednesday, killing at least 10 people and leaving more than 250 missing, an official said. (Oct. 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins