Scientists Discover New Greenhouse Gas, More Deadly Than Carbon Dioxide

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By Esther Tanquintic-Misa | December 16, 2013 2:32 PM EST

Canadian researchers at the University of Toronto have discovered a new greenhouse gas substance called perfluorotributylamine (PFTBA). Although not as prevalent as carbon dioxide, it is however 7,000 times more destructive to the Earth's atmosphere than CO2.

The scientists labeled PFTBA as the "most radiatively efficient chemical found to date, breaking all other chemical records for its potential to impact climate."

An environmental activist places his hand on a giant globe in a rally demanding more action to battle climate change during the 19th conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP19) in Warsaw November 16, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

The PFTBA greenhouse gas has been around since the mid-20th century, spurred by the period's zooming electrical boom.

The man-made chemical is used in electrical equipment, often for electronic testing and as a heat transfer agent.

Since the chemical does not occur naturally, it breaks all records for potential impacts on the climate, researchers said.

"One molecule of this powerful manmade chemical was over 7,000 times more effective at causing indirect climate change than a single molecule of a well-known gas, carbon dioxide, when examined through a 100-year timeframe," the researchers said.

"We claim that PFTBA has the highest radiative efficiency of any molecule detected in the atmosphere to date," Angela Hong, one of the co-authors, said.

Researchers noted PFTBA concentrations in the atmosphere are low, at 0.18 parts per trillion in the Toronto area versus 400 parts per million for carbon dioxide. This meant that PFTBA does not displace the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal as the main drivers of climate change.

Dr. Drew Shindell, a climatologist at Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, noted on the alarming presence of the newly discovered greenhouse gas.

"This is a warning to us that this gas could have a very very large impact on climate change - if there were a lot of it. Since there is not a lot of it now, we don't have to worry about it at present, but we have to make sure it doesn't grow and become a very large contributor to global warming," he told The Guardian.

Researchers said there are no known processes that could destroy or remove PFTBA in the lower levels of the atmosphere.

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