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Keywords:

  • greenhouse gases;
  • nitrogen trifluoride;
  • Kyoto Protocol;
  • climate change

[1] Nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) can be called the missing greenhouse gas: It is a synthetic chemical produced in industrial quantities; it is not included in the Kyoto basket of greenhouse gases or in national reporting under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); and there are no observations documenting its atmospheric abundance. Current publications report a long lifetime of 740 yr and a global warming potential (GWP), which in the Kyoto basket is second only to SF6. We re-examine the atmospheric chemistry of NF3 and calculate a shorter lifetime of 550 yr, but still far beyond any societal time frames. With 2008 production equivalent to 67 million metric tons of CO2, NF3 has a potential greenhouse impact larger than that of the industrialized nations' emissions of PFCs or SF6, or even that of the world's largest coal-fired power plants. If released, annual production would increase the lower atmospheric abundance by 0.4 ppt, and it is urgent to document NF3 emissions through atmospheric observations.