New greenhouse gas identifiedWednesday, March 11, 2009
MIT News   (Browse all news)
Early detection may permit 'nipping it in the bud' — A gas used for fumigation has the potential to contribute significantly to future greenhouse warming, but because its production has not yet reached high levels there is still time to nip this potential contributor in the bud, according to an international team of researchers. Scientists at MIT, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego and other institutions are reporting the results of their study of the gas, sulfuryl fluoride, this month in the Journal of Geophysical Research. The researchers have measured the levels of the gas in the atmosphere, and determined its emissions and lifetime to help gauge its potential future effects on climate.
Sulfuryl fluoride was introduced as a replacement for methyl bromide, a widely used fumigant that is being phased out under the Montreal Protocol because of its ozone-destroying chemistry. Methyl bromide has been widely used for insect control in grain-storage facilities, and in intensive agriculture in arid lands where drip irrigation is combined with covering of the land with plastic sheets to control evaporation. "Such fumigants are very important for controlling pests in the agricultural and building sectors," says Ron Prinn, director of MIT's Center for Global Change Science and a co-author on the new paper.
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 environmental science — to try to head off potential dangers as early as possible, rather than wait until it's a mature industry with lots of capital and jobs at stake." More ...