Antarctic Penguin Poop Emits Laughing Gas
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.
- Arctic Laughing Gas Emissions Could Accelerate Global Warming ... ›
- Protecting Argentina's Imperiled Penguins From Plastic Waste ›
- Satellite Imagery Shows New Penguin Colonies in Antarctica - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The 2020 hurricane season is now expected to be the most active since at least the early 1980s, meteorologists at Colorado State University, a standard bearer for seasonal hurricane predictions, announced Wednesday.
Three years ago, scientists predicted it would happen. Now, new NASA satellite imagery confirms it's true: two ice caps in Canada's Nunavut province have disappeared completely, providing more visual evidence of the rapid warming happening near the poles, as CTV News in Canada reported.
- Climate Explained: What the World Was Like the Last Time Carbon ... ›
- Polar Bears Could Be Nearly Gone by 2100, Study Finds - EcoWatch ›
- Greenland's Ice Sheet Is Melting at Rate That Surpasses Scientists ... ›
By Katell Ané
The European Commission launched a new Farm to Fork strategy in an effort to reduce the social and environmental impact of the European food system. It is the newest strategy under the European Green Deal, setting sustainability targets for farmers, consumers, and policymakers.
Facebook and Twitter removed posts by President Donald Trump and his campaign Wednesday for violating their policies against spreading false information about COVID-19.
- Rare Inflammatory Disease Linked to More Than 100 Childhood ... ›
- COVID-19: What Experts Think About Reopening Schools - EcoWatch ›
- Teens and Tweens Are Fastest COVID-19 Spreaders, New Study ... ›
- Researchers Are Creating a Drone to Study Wild Dolphins With Help ... ›
- These Whales Are Suffering a Slow-Motion Extinction - EcoWatch ›
By Alexander Freund
Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab says he believes Tuesday's explosion in Beirut could have been caused by large quantities of ammonium nitrate stored in the port.
What Is Ammonium Nitrate?<p>Ammonium nitrate is a white crystalline salt that can be fairly cheaply produced from ammonia and nitric acid. It is soluble and often used as fertilizer, as nitrogen is needed for healthy plant development.</p><p>Ammonium nitrate in its pure form is not dangerous. It is, however, heat sensitive. At 32.2 degrees Celsius (89.96 degrees Fahrenheit), ammonium nitrate changes its atomic structure, which in turn changes its chemical properties.</p><p>When large quantities of ammonium nitrate are stored in one place, heat is generated. If the amount is sufficiently vast, it can cause the chemical to ignite. Once a temperature of 170 C is reached, ammonium nitrate starts breaking down, emitting nitrous oxide, better known as laughing gas. Any sudden ignition causes ammonium nitrate to decompose directly into water, nitrogen and oxygen, which explains the enormous explosive power of the salt.</p>
Deadly Disasters<p>As ammonium nitrate is a highly explosive chemical, many countries strictly regulate its use. Over the past 100 years, there have been several disasters involving the chemical.</p><p>In 1921, for example, a massive blast occurred at a BASF chemical plant in Ludwigshafen in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate. About 400 metric tons of a mixture of ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate exploded, killing 559 people and injuring 1,977. The plant was largely destroyed in the blast, which could be heard as far away as Munich, some 300 kilometers (186 miles) distant.</p><p>In 2015, explosions caused by ammonium nitrate ripped through the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/china-convicts-dozens-for-last-years-giant-explosions-in-tianjin/a-36324321" target="_blank">Chinese port city of Tianjin</a>. Eight hundred metric tons of the chemical were said to have been stored along with other substances in a warehouse for hazardous materials. The blasts killed 173 people and destroyed an entire city district.</p><p>Two years earlier, in 2013, an ammonium nitrate explosion occurred at the West Fertilizer Company site in Texas, killing 14 people. And in 2001, 31 people died in Toulouse, France, in an explosion caused by the chemical.</p>
Terrorist Favorite<p>In Germany, the purchase and use of ammonium nitrate is regulated by the explosives act. This is because the cheap, highly explosive and relatively easily obtainable material has in the past been used by terrorists to carry out attacks.</p><p>For example, in 1995, U.S. conspiracy theorist and gun enthusiast Timothy McVeigh used a mixture of ammonium nitrate and other substances to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Norwegian far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik also used ammonium nitrate in a car bomb attack in Oslo in 2011.</p>
- 5 Ways to Keep Unhealthy Nitrates and Nitrites Out of Your Body ... ›
- The Price of Our Fertilizer Addiction - EcoWatch ›
- 8 Disturbing Facts About Monsanto's Evil Twin—The Chemical ... ›
By Michelle D. Holmes
Most Americans know about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans primarily through their colorful representations: the original food pyramid, which a few years ago morphed into MyPlate. The guidelines represent the government mothering us to choose the healthiest vegetables, grains, sources of protein, and desserts, and to eat them in the healthiest portions.
As innocuous as the food pyramid and MyPlate seem, they are actually a matter of life and death.
- 6 Powerful Ways to Improve Mental Health - EcoWatch ›
- New, Improved Vegetarian and Vegan Food Pyramid - EcoWatch ›
- Dr. Mark Hyman: Here's How the Food Pyramid Should Look ... ›