The role of halocarbons in the climate change of the troposphere and stratosphere

Piers M. De F. Forster, Manoj Joshi

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Releases of halocarbons into the atmosphere over the last 50 years are among the factors that have contributed to changes in the Earth’s climate since pre-industrial times. Their individual and collective potential to contribute directly to surface climate change is usually gauged through calculation of their radiative efficiency, radiative forcing, and/or Global Warming Potential (GWP). For those halocarbons that contain chlorine and bromine, indirect effects on temperature via ozone layer depletion represent another way in which these gases affect climate. Further, halocarbons can also affect the temperature in the stratosphere. In this paper, we use a narrow-band radiative transfer model together with a range of climate models to examine the role of these gases on atmospheric temperatures in the stratosphere and troposphere. We evaluate in detail the halocarbon contributions to temperature changes at the tropical tropopause, and find that they have contributed a significant warming of ~0.4 K over the last 50 years, dominating the effect of the other well-mixed greenhouse gases at these levels. The fact that observed tropical temperatures have not warmed strongly suggests that other mechanisms may be countering this effect. In a climate model this warming of the tropopause layer is found to lead to a 6% smaller climate sensitivity for halocarbons on a globally averaged basis, compared to that for carbon dioxide changes. Using recent observations together with scenarios we also assess their past and predicted future direct and indirect roles on the evolution of surface temperature. We find that the indirect effect of stratospheric ozone depletion could have offset up to approximately half of the predicted past increases in surface temperature that would otherwise have occurred as a result of the direct effect of halocarbons. However, as ozone will likely recover in the next few decades, a slightly faster rate of warming should be expected from the net effect of halocarbons, and we find that together halocarbons could bring forward next century’s expected warming by ~20 years if future emissions projections are realized. In both the troposphere and stratosphere CFC-12 contributes most to the past temperature changes and the emissions projection considered suggest that HFC-134a could contribute most of the warming over the coming century.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-266
Number of pages18
JournalClimatic Change
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2005

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