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CLIMATE CHANGE

Scientists discover Earth's 'most powerful' greenhouse gas to date

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 December, 2013, 10:55pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 December, 2013, 4:20pm
 

A new greenhouse gas that is 7,000 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the earth has been discovered by researchers in Canada.

The gas, perfluorotributylamine, has been in use by the electrical industry since the middle of the 20th century.

The chemical, which does not occur naturally, breaks all records for potential impacts on the climate, said the researchers at the University of Toronto's department of chemistry.

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

The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found PFTBA was 7,100 times more powerful at warming the earth over a 100-year time span than CO {-2}.

However, concentrations of PFTBA in the atmosphere are low - 0.18 parts per trillion in the Toronto area - compared to 400 parts per million for carbon dioxide.

Drew Shindell, a climatologist at Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said: "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."

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