May 9, 2012

An Inconvenient Truth: Of Dinosaur Farts and Bovine Excretions

During a recent bridge game, a friend asked if we thought that human activity on earth has played a role in climate change. With varying degrees of certainty, we all agreed: “People are the culprits.”

As a result of my morning scan of intriguing online articles, I may have to adjust my position, and advise my bridge partners when next we meet.

An Ill Wind… From Dinosaurs?
In a May 7, 2012 article in Britain’s The Telegraph, scientists speculate that the giant dinosaurs might have caused climate change simply by passing enormous quantities of methane gas. Yes, dino-farts with an earth-shattering effect.

According to study leader Dr. David Wilkinson from Liverpool John Moores University:
A simple mathematical model suggests that the microbes living in sauropod dinosaurs may have produced enough methane to have an important effect on the Mesozoic climate. Indeed, our calculations suggest that these dinosaurs could have produced more methane than all modern sources - both natural and man-made - put together.

And Now… Cow Dung?

In the May 8, 2012 edition of e-journal Ars Technica, Scott K. Johnson writes an article with the headline “LA Smog: More Cows than Cars?”

Apparently, it’s all about ammonia. Catalytic converters have cut down on the production of nitrogen oxides, but cars still produce lots of ammonia, which -- in aerosol form -- create haze. And the new study suggests cows contribute to LA’s air pollution at least as much as cars.

To measure actual ammonia content in the air, researchers from the University of Colorado/Boulder and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration organized 18 flights with a plane carrying sensitive equipment. Those flights covered the area just downwind of urban, traffic-snarled LA, and also the area just downwind of large dairy farms east of the city.

Above the city, readings for carbon monoxide and ammonia were both high. Downwind of the dairies, carbon monoxide was absent, but ammonia levels were even more concentrated than they were above the city, though present is smaller areas. Those high levels of ammonia are a simple function of great quantities of animal feces and urine.

The article sums it up this way: “That means that, contrary to expectations, traffic and dairy farms appear to be about equally responsible for a sizeable fraction of the haze over the Los Angeles region.”

These two news tidbits are a bonanza for fart and defecation jokes. Oh, to be ten again!

Sources: Dino Gas and Cow Excretions

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