Researchers have discovered a new greenhouse gas that is 7,100 times more powerful than carbon dioxide when it comes to warming Earth’s atmosphere.
The man-made chemical used by the electrical industry is called perfluorotributylamine (PFTBA), and is “extremely long-lived in the atmosphere.”
According to the study, “PFTBA has the highest radiative efficiency of any compound detected in the atmosphere,” meaning it is the most effective at affecting the climate. Perfluorotributylamine was identified in the atmospheric measurements of Toronto, Canada, by a team of researchers from the University of Toronto.
“PFTBA has been used since the mid-20th century for various applications in electrical equipment and is currently used in thermally and chemically stable liquids marketed for use in electronic testing and as heat transfer agents,” according to Reporting ClimateScience.
While perfluorotributylamine has the highest radiative efficiency, it was found in much smaller concentrations in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. In Toronto, researchers measured 0.18 parts per trillion of PFTBA, compared to 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide.
Therefore, though it is vastly more powerful, perfluorotributylamine does not currently pose the threat to climate change that carbon dioxide poses. However, PFTBA can survive in the atmosphere for 500 years.
“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,” Dr. Drew Shindell, a NASA Climatologist told the Guardian. “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.”
PFTBA belongs to a class of compounds that have “not yet been investigated as long-lived greenhouse gases,” researchers report. These compounds, known as perfluoroalkyl amines, are products of industrial processes, yet no policies exist to control their production or emissions.
Researchers note that the discovery of PFTBA should prompt future study of other long-lived greenhouse gases whose effects are currently unknown.