Eco-Studies Releasing Most Potent Greenhouse Gas
NSF Projects in Parks and Forests Pump Pounds of SF6 into Atmosphere
Washington, DC —Significant amounts of the most destructive greenhouse gas ever known are being emitted during water resource research funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Despite clearly adverse climate change consequences, NSF will continue funding projects using sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), a greenhouse gas 22,800 more powerful at trapping atmospheric heat over a century than carbon dioxide and with an atmospheric lifespan of 3,200 years.
During 2021, NSF’s the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) stated that they used approximately 18 pounds of SF6 on 22 sites. NEON states that over the life of the project they have used 108 pounds of SF6 on a total of 24 sites. That is equivalent to burning more than a million pounds of coal.
Concentrations of SF6 in the atmosphere have been steadily rising since the mid-1970s. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a program designed to lessen use of SF6 by the electrical industry due to its ultra-potency as a greenhouse gas.
“Scientific research is important but is not a justification for environmental irresponsibility,” stated Rocky Mountain PEER Director Chandra Rosenthal, arguing that the limited ecological value of the research is not worth the additional significant greenhouse emissions. “Water resource research should not come at the expense of atmospheric health.”
Most of the 24 NEON research sites are in national parks and forests. Reacting to months of protests from National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service officials, NEON has agreed to reduce its SF6 usage to 4 pounds a year at ten sites for up to another three years.
NEON admits that there are alternatives to SF6, notably argon, which is not a greenhouse gas, but contends that the collection process is more difficult to implement. NSF further contends that “Switching to a different gas at this point in time would require more SF6 releases due to the need to run side-by-side injections of both the new gas and the SF6 gas, so that researchers could connect old and new measurements.” However, similar research projects have switched to argon without issue.
“It does not appear that NSF realizes that we are in a climate change emergency and its ‘business as usual’ approach is no longer appropriate,” commented PEER Staff Counsel Monica Mercola, who obtained the documents under the Freedom of Information Act. “We are asking NSF to cease funding projects using SF6 immediately and federal land management agencies to review the climate consequences of their current research permits.”