Trends and emissions of six perfluorocarbons in the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere

Elise S. Droste*, Karina E. Adcock, Matthew J. Ashfold, Charles Chou, Zoë Fleming, Paul J. Fraser, Lauren J. Gooch, Andrew J. Hind, Ray L. Langenfelds, Emma Leedham Elvidge, Norfazrin Mohd Hanif, Simon O'Doherty, David E. Oram, Chang Feng Ou-Yang, Marios Panagi, Claire E. Reeves, William T. Sturges, Johannes C. Laube

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Perfluorocarbons (PFCs) are potent greenhouse gases with global warming potentials up to several thousand times greater than CO2 on a 100-year time horizon. The lack of any significant sinks for PFCs means that they have long atmospheric lifetimes of the order of thousands of years. Anthropogenic production is thought to be the only source for most PFCs. Here we report an update on the global atmospheric abundances of the following PFCs, most of which have for the first time been analytically separated according to their isomers: coctafluorobutane (c-C4F8), n-decafluorobutane (n-C4F10), ndodecafluoropentane (n-C5F12), n-tetradecafluorohexane (nC6F14), and n-hexadecafluoroheptane (n-C7F16). Additionally, we report the first data set on the atmospheric mixing ratios of perfluoro-2-methylpentane (i-C6F14). The existence and significance of PFC isomers have not been reported before, due to the analytical challenges of separating them. The time series spans a period from 1978 to the present. Several data sets are used to investigate temporal and spatial trends of these PFCs: time series of air samples collected at Cape Grim, Australia, from 1978 to the start of 2018; a time series of air samples collected between July 2015 and April 2017 at Tacolneston, UK; and intensive campaign-based sampling collections from Taiwan. Although the remote "background" Southern Hemispheric Cape Grim time series indicates that recent growth rates of most of these PFCs are lower than in the 1990s, we continue to see significantly increasing mixing ratios that are between 6 % and 27 % higher by the end of 2017 compared to abundances measured in 2010. Air samples from Tacolneston show a positive offset in PFC mixing ratios compared to the Southern Hemisphere baseline. The highest mixing ratios and variability are seen in air samples from Taiwan, which is therefore likely situated much closer to PFC sources, confirming predominantly Northern Hemispheric emissions for most PFCs. Even though these PFCs occur in the atmosphere at levels of parts per trillion molar or less, their total cumulative global emissions translate into 833 million metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent by the end of 2017, 23 % of which has been emitted since 2010. Almost two-thirds of the CO2 equivalent emissions within the last decade are attributable to c-C4F8, which currently also has the highest emission rates that continue to grow. Sources of all PFCs covered in this work remain poorly constrained and reported emissions in global databases do not account for the abundances found in the atmosphere.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4787-4807
Number of pages21
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Volume20
Issue number8
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 24 Apr 2020

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    Droste, E. S., Adcock, K. E., Ashfold, M. J., Chou, C., Fleming, Z., Fraser, P. J., Gooch, L. J., Hind, A. J., Langenfelds, R. L., Elvidge, E. L., Hanif, N. M., O'Doherty, S., Oram, D. E., Ou-Yang, C. F., Panagi, M., Reeves, C. E., Sturges, W. T., & Laube, J. C. (2020). Trends and emissions of six perfluorocarbons in the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 20(8), 4787-4807. https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-20-4787-2020