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Dec 11, 2013 02:42 PM EST

Newly Discovered Greenhouse Gas 7,000 Times Stronger Than CO2, But Not Quite as Prevalent

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A newly discovered greenhouse gas is believed to be 7,000 times stronger than standard carbon dioxide (CO2), but researchers suggest it may not be new at all.

Accoridng to the Guardian, the University of Toronto (U of T) research team determined that the electrical industry has used perfluorotributylamine (PFTBA), the newly discovered gas, since the mid-20th century.

The researchers said the chemical does not occur naturally and there is no other gas that compares in terms of climate impact. The researchers published their study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. Over a 100-year period, PFTBA was found to be 7,100 times more influential on global warming than CO2.

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

However, the concentrations of PFTBA in the atmosphere are still relatively low, at 0.18 parts per trillion in the Toronto area versus CO2's 400 parts per million.

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

Other similar studies have already warned of new greenhouse gases becoming more prevalent in the atmosphere. While still not as prevalent as CO2, the newly discovered gases have a stronger impact per molecule.

"From a climate change perspective, individually, PFTBA's atmospheric concentration does not significantly alert the phenomenon of climate change," Hong said. "Still the biggest culprit is CO2 from fossil fuel emissions."

The research team was not able to determine how widespread the use of PFTBA is outside Toronto, but its discovery will certainly raise questions heading forward.

"PFTBA is just one example of an industrial chemical that is produced but there are no policies that control its production, use or emission," Hong said. "It is not being regulated by any type of climate policy."

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