Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) today announced they’ve identified a new greenhouse gas with thousands of times more heat-trapping capability than carbon dioxide: sulfuryl fluoride.
Used as a fumigant to control insect pests in agriculture and buildings, sulfuryl fluoride “has the potential to contribute significantly to future greenhouse warming,” according to a news release from MIT. However, the statement goes on, “because its production has not yet reached high levels there is still time to nip this potential contributor in the bud.”
“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,” said Ron Prinn, director of MIT’s Center for Global Change Science. Because of that, he added, it has the potential to become “a greenhouse gas of some importance if the quantity of its use grows as people expect.”
Currently, atmospheric levels of sulfuryl fluoride stand at only 1.5 parts per trillion, although concentrations are growing by some 5 percent a year, according to the MIT research. Because of its long lifetime in the atmosphere and its ability to absorb infrared light, Prinn said, “tonne for tonne, it is about 4,800 times more potent a heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide.”