Buildings destroyed by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake released thousands of tons of climate-warming and ozone-depleting chemicals into the atmosphere, according to a new study.
New research suggests that the thousands of buildings destroyed and damaged during the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan four years ago released 6,600 metric tons (7,275 U.S. tons) of gases stored in insulation, appliances and other equipment into the atmosphere.
Emissions of these chemicals, called halocarbons, increased by 21 percent to 91 percent over typical levels, according to the new study accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.
The study is the first to look at how the Tohoku earthquake affected the release of halocarbons into the atmosphere and likely one of the first to examine emissions of these gases following a natural disaster, according to the study’s authors.
“What we found is a new mechanism of halocarbon emissions coming from the earthquake,” said Takuya Saito, a senior researcher at the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Tsukuba, Japan, and lead author of the new paper.
Halocarbons released as a result of the earthquake include chemicals that deplete the ozone layer and contribute to global warming – including some gases that are no longer used because of those harmful effects on the environment. These include chlorofluorocarbons like CFC-11, a powerful ozone-depleting chemical used in foam insulation until it was phased out in 1996, and hydrochlorofluorocarbons like HCFC-22, an ozone-depleting refrigerant that is also a powerful greenhouse gas and is in the process of being phased out of use. Among other halocarbons released by the earthquake were hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, and sulfur hexafluoride, both potent greenhouse gases.
The emissions of the six halocarbons released from Japan in 2011 are equivalent to the discharge of 1,300 metric tons (1,433 U.S. tons) of CFC-11 alone — equal to the amount of CFC-11s found in 2.9 million refrigerators manufactured before the chemical was banned. The total emissions of the six chemicals are also equivalent to the release of 19.2 million metric tons (21.2 million U.S. tons) of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – an amount equal to about 10 percent of Japanese vehicle emissions in 2011, according to the study’s authors.
Saito and his colleagues decided to investigate halocarbon emissions and their relationship to the earthquake after ground-based air monitoring stations in Japan recorded surprising high levels of these chemicals. The stations are on Hateruma Island, east of Taiwan; Cape Ochiishi, on the east side of Hokkaido; and Ryori, north of Tokyo on Honshu.
The study’s authors combined these measurements with an atmospheric model and other mathematical methods to figure out that increased emissions from the earthquake were involved, how much of the emissions could be attributed to the disaster and how they compared to previous years.
They found that emissions of all six halocarbons were higher from March 2011 to February 2012, following the earthquake, than they were during the same time the year before the event and during the same period the year after it.
About 50 percent of the halocarbon emissions after the earthquake were of HCFC-22, likely due to damage to refrigerators and air conditioners. Emissions of the gas were 38 percent higher than the years before and after the earthquake. Emissions of CFC-11 were 72 percent higher than emissions before and after the earthquake, likely due to damage to insulation foams used in appliances and buildings, according to the study. Emissions of two types of HFCs — HFC-134a and HFC-32 — rose by 49 percent and 63 percent compared to the years before and after the disaster.
The new study also calculates the total impact of the increased emissions on ozone depletion and global warming. The earthquake-triggered surge of halocarbons increased ozone loss from Japanese emissions of those six gases by 38 percent* from March 2011 to February 2012 compared to the same time period in the years before and after the event. The amount of heat trapped in the atmosphere because of Japan’s emissions of those six gases rose 36 percent from March 2011 to February 2012 compared to earlier and later years because of the extra emissions from the earthquake, according to the new study.
Saito said the new study shows the importance of including the release of gases from natural disasters in emissions estimates. Although the global effect of one event is small — emissions associated with the Tohoku earthquake accounted for 4 percent or less of global emissions in 2011 — the cumulative effect could be larger, he said. Natural disasters accelerate the release of halocarbons and replacement of these gases could lead to the use of more halocarbons, according to the study.
National halocarbon emissions estimates by the Japanese government did not factor in the release of the chemicals due to the earthquake and are likely underestimating the amount of these substances in the atmosphere, according to Saito. Governments rely on inventories of chemicals and generic data about how they are used to estimate their amounts in the atmosphere – called a “bottom-up” approach” — whereas the new study uses actual measurements of the gases – called a “top-down” approach. “It is apparent that there are unreported emissions,” Saito said.
The new study shows that there could be a need to include the amount of halocarbons released by catastrophic events in emissions estimates, said Steve Montzka, a research chemist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colorado, who was not involved in the research. It also highlights the need for more measurements of halocarbons in the atmosphere, he added, rather than relying on bottom-up emissions estimates from inventories.
“Atmospheric scientists often say that relying solely on bottom-up inventories to tell you how greenhouse gas emissions change is like going on a diet without weighing yourself,” Montzka said.
*Note: This value has been corrected from the accepted manuscript posted online.
The American Geophysical Union is dedicated to advancing the Earth and space sciences for the benefit of humanity through its scholarly publications, conferences, and outreach programs. AGU is a not-for-profit, professional, scientific organization representing more than 60,000 members in 139 countries. Join the conversation onFacebook, Twitter, YouTube, and our other social media channels.
Notes for Journalists
Journalists and public information officers (PIOs) of educational and scientific institutions who have registered with AGU can download a PDF copy of this article by clicking on this link: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2014GL062814/abstract?campaign=wlytk-41855.5282060185
Or, you may order a copy of the final paper by emailing your request to Nanci Bompey at email@example.com. Please provide your name, the name of your publication, and your phone number.
Neither the paper nor this press release is under embargo.
“Extraordinary halocarbon emissions initiated by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake”
Takuya Saito: National Institute for Environmental Studies, Tsukuba, Japan;
Xuekun Fang: Norwegian Institute for Air Research, Kjeller, Norway; and State Key Joint Laboratory for Environmental Simulation and Pollution Control, College of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, Peking University, Beijing, China;
Andreas Stohl: Norwegian Institute for Air Research, Kjeller, Norway;
Yoko Yokouchi and Jiye Zeng: National Institute for Environmental Studies, Tsukuba, Japan;
Yukio Fukuyama: Japan Meteorological Agency, Tokyo, Japan;
Hitoshi Mukai: National Institute for Environmental Studies, Tsukuba, Japan.
Contact Information for the Authors:
Takuya Saito: firstname.lastname@example.org
Xuekun Fang: email@example.com, +1 (617) 955-9144.
Andreas Stohl: firstname.lastname@example.org, +49-89-374-18029
+1 (202) 777-7524
Nanci Bompey | American Geophysical Union
Rutgers-led innovation could spur faster, cheaper, nano-based manufacturing
14.02.2018 | Rutgers University
New study from the University of Halle: How climate change alters plant growth
12.01.2018 | Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg
Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.
The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...
An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.
The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...
In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.
Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...
Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.
They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...
A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...
23.03.2018 | Event News
19.03.2018 | Event News
16.03.2018 | Event News
23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences
23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy