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New greenhouse gas identified
Date:3/11/2009

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--A gas used for fumigation has the potential to contribute significantly to future greenhouse warming, but because its production has not yet reached high levels there is still time to nip this potential contributor in the bud, according to an international team of researchers.

Scientists at MIT, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego and other institutions are reporting the results of their study of the gas, sulfuryl fluoride, this month in the Journal of Geophysical Research. The researchers have measured the levels of the gas in the atmosphere, and determined its emissions and lifetime to help gauge its potential future effects on climate.

Sulfuryl fluoride was introduced as a replacement for methyl bromide, a widely used fumigant that is being phased out under the Montreal Protocol because of its ozone-destroying chemistry. Methyl bromide has been widely used for insect control in grain-storage facilities, and in intensive agriculture in arid lands where drip irrigation is combined with covering of the land with plastic sheets to control evaporation.

"Such fumigants are very important for controlling pests in the agricultural and building sectors," says Ron Prinn, director of MIT's Center for Global Change Science and a co-author on the new paper. But with methyl bromide being phased out, "industry had to find alternatives, so sulfuryl fluoride has evolved to fill the role," he says.

Until the new work, nobody knew accurately how long the gas would last in the atmosphere after it leaked out of buildings or grain silos. "Our analysis has shown that the lifetime is about 36 years, or eight times greater than previously thought, with the ocean being its dominant sink," Prinn says. So it would become "a greenhouse gas of some importance if the quantity of its use grows as people expect." For now, the gas is only present in the atmosphere in very small quantities of about 1.5 parts per tri
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Contact: Elizabeth Thomson
thomson@mit.edu
617-258-5402
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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