Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Antarctic Penguin Poop Emits Laughing Gas

Animals
King penguins on the island of South Georgia in the Bay of Isles, Antarctica on Oct. 31, 2017. Martin Zwick / REDA&CO / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A colony of king penguins in Antarctica emit so much nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, in their poop that researchers went a little "cuckoo," while studying them, according to Agence France Presse, which reported on a new study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.


The study looked at the effects of a king penguin colony's activity on soil greenhouse gas fluxes in South Georgia, an island just north of Antarctica. One finding in particular was notably unique—penguin feces, or guano, produce extremely high levels of nitrous oxide, as CNN reported.

The scientists from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark were investigating the effect of glacier retreat and penguin activity on greenhouse gas emissions. They decided to take samples from South Georgia Island since it his home to over 150,000 breeding pairs of king penguins, as Newsweek reported.

"After nosing about in guano for several hours, one goes completely cuckoo," lead researcher Bo Elberling said in a statement, as Newsweek reported. "One begins to feel ill and get a headache. The small nitrous oxide cylinders that you see lying in and floating around Copenhagen are no match for this heavy dose, which results from a combination of nitrous oxide with hydrogen sulphide and other gases."

Penguin poop is known to create huge amounts of nitrous oxide because the penguins' diet is rich in fish and krill that have absorbed large amounts of nitrogen via phytoplankton. The nitrogen is then released from the guano. When it hits the soil and interacts with the air, it is converted to nitrous oxide.

Nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas, with a warming effect that is 300 times what carbon dioxide produces, according to Newsweek. It's also used as a sedative for dental procedures, as a recreational drug and in agriculture.

"Penguin guano produces significantly high levels of nitrous oxide around their colonies. The maximum emissions are about 100 times higher than in a recently fertilized Danish field," Elberling said in a University of Copenhagen press release, as CNET reported.

On their own, the penguin guano is not nearly strong enough to affect the earth's atmosphere, but it is clear that the penguins affect their local environment, which is important as colonies grow and move to adapt to a changing climate, as CNN reported.

"A future expansion of penguins into newly available ice-free polar coastal areas may therefore markedly increase the local (greenhouse gas) budget," the study says.

"Penguins have been considered to be an ideal 'bio-indicator' of ecosystem and environmental changes, as changes in populations and colonies reflect direct and indirect ecological responses to climatic changes," the authors wrote in the study. "Changes in penguin colonies, penguin activity and the associated addition of guano are known to significantly influence terrestrial soil and ecosystem processes and thereby can turn soils into [greenhouse gas] emission hotspots."

Eberling added that future research may add to an understanding of how the droppings affect the earth and its atmosphere, which could help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, according to CNN.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A climate activist holds a victory sign in Washington, DC. after President Obama announced that he would reject the Keystone XL Pipeline proposal on November 6, 2015. Mark Wilson / Getty Images

By Jake Johnson

The Supreme Court late Monday upheld a federal judge's rejection of a crucial permit for Keystone XL and blocked the Trump administration's attempt to greenlight construction of the 1,200-mile crude oil project, the third such blow to the fossil fuel industry in a day—coming just hours after the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the court-ordered shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Read More Show Less
A forest fire in Yakutsk in eastern Siberia on June 2, 2020. Yevgeny Sofroneyev / TASS via Getty Images

Once thought too frozen to burn, Siberia is now on fire and spewing carbon after enduring its warmest June ever, according to CNN.

Read More Show Less
The Colima fir tree's distribution has been reduced to the area surrounding the Nevado de Colima volcano. Agustín del Castillo

By Agustín del Castillo

For 20 years, the Colima fir tree (Abies colimensis) has been at the heart of many disputes to conserve the temperate forests of southern Jalisco, a state in central Mexico. Today, the future of this tree rests upon whether the area's avocado crops will advance further and whether neighboring communities will unite to protect it.

Read More Show Less
Independent environmental certifications offer a better indicator of a product's eco credentials, including labor conditions for workers involved in production. Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Jeanette Cwienk

This summer's high street fashions have more in common than styles and colors. From the pink puff-sleeved dream going for just €19.99 ($22.52) at H&M, to Zara's elegant €12.95 ($14.63) halter-neck dress, clothing stores are alive with cheap organic cotton.

"Sustainable" collections with aspirational own-brand names like C&A's "Wear the change," Zara's "join life" or H&M's "CONSCIOUS" are offering cheap fashion and a clean environmental conscience. Such, at least, is the message. But is it really that simple?

Read More Show Less
The CDC is warning that people with type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, whole organ transplants, and women who are pregnant could experience more severe outcomes if they contract COVID-19. LeoPatrizi / Getty Images
Read More Show Less

More than 200 Indigenous Nations demonstrated against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Canon Ball, ND on Sept. 2, 2016. Joe Brusky / Flickr

A federal judge ruled Monday that the controversial Dakota Access pipeline must be shut down and drained of oil until a full environmental review of the project is completed.

Read More Show Less

Trending

The Yersinia pestis bacteria causes bubonic plague in animals and humans. Illustration based on light microscope image At 1000x. BSIP / UIG Via Getty Images

A herdsman in the Chinese autonomous region of Inner Mongolia was diagnosed with the bubonic plague Sunday, The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less