Rare, Potent Greenhouse Gas Is Rising "Quasi-Exponentially"

By Nina Bai | October 24, 2008 5:58 pm

flatscreenNew measurements of a rare but potent greenhouse gas finds levels to be four times higher than previously thought. Nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), used mainly in the manufacture of flatscreen TVs and microcircuits, is 17,000 times more powerful at trapping heat than an equal mass of carbon dioxide. Although NF3 is currently responsible for only 0.15 percent of human-induced global warming, the new analysis indicates that levels of the gas are rising “quasi-exponentially” [New Scientist].

Scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California looked at air samples taken in California and in Australia. They found that over the past three decades, the atmospheric concentration of the gas has increased more than 20-fold, from 0.02 to 0.454 parts per trillion, with most emissions occurring in the Northern Hemisphere. The overall amount of the gas in the atmosphere, estimated in 2006 at less than 1,200 tonnes, was then actually 4,200 tonnes and has since risen to 5,400 tonnes, they report in Geophysical Research Letters [subscription required] [Nature News].

Yet the Kyoto protocol does not set limits on NF3 emissions because it was made in tiny amounts when the protocol was agreed in 1997 [New Scientist]. The gas was introduced in the last decade as a safer alternative to perfluorocarbon gases (PFCs), another potent greenhouse gas that is regulated by the Kyoto protocol. However, the dangers of NF3 emissions were not publicized until earlier this year, and previous techniques could not accurately gauge levels of the gas in the atmosphere. “Now we need to get hard numbers on how much is flowing through the system, from production to disposal,” [New Scientist] says Michael Prather, an atmospheric chemist.

Scientists are pushing for tighter regulations of NF3. Ray Weiss, co-author of the new study, says, “From a climate perspective, there is a need to add nitrogen trifluoride to the suite of greenhouse gases whose production is inventoried and whose emissions are regulated under the Kyoto Protocol, thus providing meaningful incentives for its wise use” [Reuters].

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Image: flickr/ Jami3.org

  • Josh

    CO2 is causing so much warming that it’s getting colder. Governments better “regulate” (tax) nitrogen triflouride too, or else we might cause an ice age! This is just another attempt by the anthropogenic global warming propaganda machine to spread fear. True science, using the empirical method, not computer models, has proven that man’s CO2 emissions have had a negligible effect on climate and will not cause armegeddon as the global warming alarmists pray for. I doubt nitrogen triflouride is a threat. In the real world, the Earth is experiencing a global cooling trend and all the warming (0.6 degrees Celsius) from the late 70s to the late 90s has disappeared. This cooling happens to coincide with a shift in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) to its cool (Negative) mode. Interestingly, the PDO was in its warm (Positive) mode from the late 70s to the late 90s. A positive PDO results in more frequent El Nino years, and El Nino increases global average temperatures. A negative PDO results in frequent La Nina years, and La Nina decreases global average temperatures. The year 1998, a year the media frequently trumpets as one of the warmest “on record” featured a very potent El Nino. CO2 doesn’t cause El Nino, La Nina or the PDO. Natural cycles do. Additionally, the media fixates on the last 30 years of climate, as if climate change didn’t exist before satellites and computer models. Going back in time, the slight rise in temperatures during the late 20th century is merely a tiny bump in the perpetually fluctuating climate of our planet. The famous “hockey stick” temperature graph only shows the rise in temperatures over the past century. The timescale is compacted and thus the rise looks very dramatic. But when long-term temperatures are graphed and “stretched out” it becomes obvious that the hockey stick graph is entirely misleading and bogus. We live in an interglacial period meaning an ice age preceeded this period and another will follow. It’s only a matter of time, and neither nitrogen triflouride or carbon dioxide will stop it. We can’t accept any legislation that imposes taxes on greenhouse gases or any type of greenhouse gases cap and trade profit-generating scheme. I’m not a republican, a liberal, a conservative, or a democrat, and I love nature. I’m an independent free thinker who believes anthropogenic global warming is the biggest hoax in history.

  • Eric

    You’re half right. The climate cycle does include warming and cooling outside of human control, but to say that we shouldn’t regulate the release of manmade substances into the atmosphere is just stupid. That’s like saying that it doesn’t matter if we tear down the rainforests and fill the oceans with plastic garbage. The ground under all those trees is still dirt and rock, and all those plastics were made from things found on earth, so they too must be natural.
    If you truly love the earth, then you want it to follow it’s own natural cycles. the earth’s natural cycles do not involve increases in these gases that were are pumping into the atmosphere (nor plastic in the oceans). Loving the earth does not mean saying that it’s ok to destroy it without regard, saying that no matter what we do to it, it’ll still be the earth.

  • Chris

    Eric, I don’t think that we should actually want the earth to go through its natural cycles.

    Those cycles that you speak of have caused massive extinctions in the past. Just because a process is natural, does not mean that it will proceed in our favor. I think we should strive to control our environment as we will need to in order to support our growing population.

    That said, dispensing gasses into the air without 2nd thought is ludicrously stupid.


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