CSIRO Non-carbon Dioxide Greenhouse Gas Research. Part 1: 1975-90

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Historical Records of Australian Science, Volume 29, Issue 1, p.1 - 13 (2018)




There are a number atmospheric gases, in addition to carbon dioxide (CO2), that affect the absorption and emission of infrared radiation throughout the atmosphere, the so-called ‘non-CO2 greenhouse gases', and they have a significant impact on climate. In addition, some of these non-CO2 greenhouse gases contain chlorine and/or bromine, and contribute to halogen-catalysed stratospheric ozone depletion. In the mid 1970s, CSIRO at Aspendale became the first southern hemisphere laboratory to initiate research into the atmospheric abundance, trends, sources and sinks of non-CO2 greenhouse gases, and today (2017) is currently observing and modelling the past and present biogeochemical cycling of over eighty of these species, arguably the most comprehensive program of its type globally. The resultant CSIRO data are used to derive global and regional emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gases and their impact on climate and stratospheric ozone via resultant changes to the planetary radiative budget and the abundance of ‘equivalent chlorine' (weighted sum of chlorine and bromine) in the stratosphere. These data and their impacts are reported nationally to relevant Commonwealth and State Departments—environment, energy, industry, agriculture—and to relevant Australian industries—refrigeration, air-conditioning, aluminium production. They are reported internationally to United Nations agencies responsible for implementing the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer (1985) and the Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992), who periodically assess the science of climate change and ozone depletion. As the world strives to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions through national, policy-driven, initiatives framed to meet agreed obligations under these international agreements, atmospheric measurement programs, such as those operated by the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia, are critical in independently verifying the success or otherwise of such endeavours. This paper describes the initial fifteen years (1975–90) of activities in CSIRO that set up the framework for the current, globally significant, CSIRO non-CO2 greenhouse gas research program.