An old television show in the US called Laugh-In used to have a “bit” in which they awarded the Flying Fickle Finger of Fate to some entity they felt deserved … well, to be pointed at.
Big data can be a finger-pointer. That is, with big data and the availability of AI and analytics, a line between cause and effect can be made clear, as described in a very recent issue of Nature.
That’s the case with a connection between two provinces of China and a spike in the rise of atmospheric trichloroflouromethane emissions which was traced to Hebei and Shandong in northeastern China (see highlighted map below).
This chemical, also called CFC-11, or R11, was used as a refrigerant but also can be used in the manufacture of insulating foam.
Monitoring stations in Japan and South Korea detected the spike and via analysis were able to definitively point to these two areas, which in the past had been manufacturing insulating foam using that chemical, and now are suspected to have started again, although the production of this material with that chemical is against international regulations – it generates an ozone-depleting gas.
For its part, China disputes the specific claim but does agree that more data is needed to understand the problem. Trichloroflouromethane, also called CFC-11, has been banned by the Montreal Protocol of 1987, to be totally phased out by 2010. Measurements indeed confirmed that the presence of CFC-11 had dropped, until 2013, when the drop slowed suddenly – indicating that there was a new source of CFC-11 emissions offsetting the decline.
What’s the connection to project management?
As PMs we need to be savvy about project rationale – project launch – project selection. In this case, the rationale for a major monitoring network, to be built by the Chinese government, is the focus of this article. In May of this year, the environmental ministry wants to provide its own monitoring to either confirm or deny - using data - what the studies from South Korea and Japan are showing.
There will be stations located in Hebei and Shandong, with a goal to pinpoint the source. The hopes are that the Chinese ministry will share its data openly with the US (the NOAA), Japan, and South Korea.
Indeed, China has acknowledged some illegal production of CFC-11, and that it had seized 114 tons of illegally-produced CFC-11 since 2012 but that does not approach the roughly 7000 tons that are estimated to have been produced according to the analytics.
As a project manager one could certainly look at the findings from the analytics to be a project launched in response, and we could also look at new atmospheric data collection initiatives as projects as well. One mentioned in this article is that being led by Professor Claire Reeves of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, which is building a CFC-11 data set from samples taken in Taiwan – which has independently found a source of new CFC-11 from northeastern China.
Regarding the monitoring project, it will make use of the existing 1,000 air-quality monitoring stations (such as the one pictured below), but will require updating of the stations, programs to make more frequent readings, and will establish six new labs capable of doing testing for ozone-depleting chemicals.
In December, 2019, China has said that it will report on the progress of this project at a global meeting on this topic.
Here are the articles covering the studies which detected the CFC-11 emissions:
Montzka, S. A. et al. Nature 557, 413-417 (2018).
Rigby, M. et al. Nature 569, 546–550 (2019).
Zhang, G. et al. Atmos. Environ. 160, 55–69 (2017).