Fortunately, though, "we've caught it very early in the game," says Prinn, the TEPCO Professor of Atmospheric Science in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. The detection was made through a NASA-sponsored global research program called the Advanced Global Atmospheric Gases Experiment (AGAGE). "In AGAGE, we don't just monitor the big greenhouse gases that everybody's heard of," he says. "This program is also designed to sniff out potential greenhouse and ozone-depleting gases before the industry gets very big."
The lead author of the research paper is Jens Mhle of Scripps, and besides Prinn, the co-authors include Jin Huang, a research scientist at MIT's Center for Global Change Science, Ray Weiss of Scripps, who co-directs AGAGE with Prinn, and eight others from Scripps, the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom and the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research.
"Unfortunately, it turns out that sulfuryl fluoride is a greenhouse gas with a longer lifetime than previously assumed," says Mhle. "This has to be taken into account before large amounts are emitted into the atmosphere."
Prinn adds that "fumigation is a big industry, and it's absolutely needed to preserve our buildings and food supply." But identifying the greenhouse risks from this particular compound, before many factories have been built to produce it in very large amounts, would give the industry a chance to find other substitutes at a time when that's still a relatively easy change to implement. "Given human inventiveness, there are surely other alternatives out there," says Prinn. He describes this approach as "a new frontier for env
|Contact: Elizabeth Thomson|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology