Japan’s 2011 quake-tsunami disaster triggered global warming, ozone loss
According to a new study, Japan’s quake-tsunami disaster that struck in 2011 was responsible for a great deal of global warming and ozone loss – the reason being the disaster triggered release of tons of harmful chemicals in the atmosphere.
The research found 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.
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 included 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.
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 showed 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.
It also highlighted the need for more measurements of halocarbons in the atmosphere, he added, rather than relying on bottom-up emissions estimates from inventories.
The study is published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.