The gases that were detected at the Zeppelin Observatory in Svalbard come from far away. Photo: Ove Hermansen/NILU.

“New” potential greenhouse gases found in the Arctic

Disturbing amounts of “new” gases have been found in air samples from Svalbard. The gases are probably greenhouse gases.

About the gases

The five fluorinated gases that have been detected in Svalbard do not occur naturally in the environment.

Their most common use is likely in industrial production, for example as coolants and cleaning agents in the electronics industry and as solvents in the chemical industry.

Only one of these substances has been registered in the European chemical regulation REACH. Presuming that the various companies have complied with their registration duties, this shows that the other gases have not been produced or imported to Europe in annual amounts above one tonne.

As of today, there are no international environmental agreements that regulate the use or the emission of those gases.

Five fluorinated gases have been detected for the first time in air samples taken at the Zeppelin Observatory in Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard. The findings were made by NILU (the Norwegian Institute for Air Research) in conjunction with the Norwegian Environment Agency’s screening programme for new pollutants.

According to NILU, the concentration of the newly discovered gases may be even higher than the sample results show. 

These fluorinated gases may potentially have a global warming potential that is several thousand times higher than the greenhouse gas CO2.

- It is a very serious situation that such large amounts of gases that we didn’t expect to find in this environment have been detected.This suggests that the emissions must be considerable,says Ellen Hambro, director of the Norwegian Environment Agency. 

Unknown sources of emission

We do not know enough about the uses and emissions of these substances to be able to explain the findings.

- It is clear that we need to find out more about these gases, what they are used for, how much they are used, and where they come from, Hambro notes.

The gases found on Svalbard are highly persistent, that is they degrade very slowly in nature. They also have properties that suggest that they will remain in the atmosphere for a long time and that they are transported over vast distances. 

To be examined more closely

Along with their counterparts in the other Nordic countries, the Norwegian Environment Agency will launch a project funded by the Nordic Council in order to examine further the occurrence of those gases in the environment. 

We also encourage the various research communities to obtain further knowledge about the properties of these gases, especially about their impact on the environment and their global warming potential.


Environmental monitoring is essential

AMAP (the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme), where Norway is an active participant, is a working group appointed by the Arctic Council.

In 2017 AMAP listed a number of substances that are suspected of being harmful to the Arctic environment and that the working group believes should be studied more closely. This was the motivation for measuring these substances at the observatory in Ny-Ålesund.

- We were searching for these substances in air samples, water samples, and organisms alike. It shows how important it is to monitor the environment, Hambro explains. 

Every year, the Norwegian Environment Agency carries out a screening survey in order to obtain more knowledge about the occurrence of new and insufficiently surveyed pollutants in the Norwegian environment.

When such substances have been found in the environment, they can be included in our monitoring programmes in order to acquire more knowledge over time. The findings are also important in the Norwegian Environment Agency’s work on international measures to eliminate the most pernicious of the chemical substances.

Links

Contact

Senior Adviser Alice Gaustad, Section for Climate Science, telephone: +47 980 94 104

Senior Adviser Bård Nordbø, Section for Environmental Monitoring and Mapping, telephone: +47 991 66 289