Posts Tagged ‘farts

The Dinosaur Fart Debate

- May 9th, 2012

sauropod

 

Dinosaurs produced a massive amount of flatulence during their long time on earth — enough to significantly affect their environment and cause global warming, according to a study by British researchers published in Current Biology magazine this week.

 

But scientists dispute the conclusion drawn by Fox News and other media outlets that the dinosaurs’ farts and belches could have caused their extinction through climate change.

 

Before we even get into the semantics of the debate, let’s back up and ask a crucial question:

 

How, exactly, do you measure the fart production of creatures that have been dead and gone for tens of millions of years anyway?

 

Well, the scientists from universities in Liverpool, London and Glasgow figured most of the hot air was produced by the long-necked herbivore dinosaurs called sauropods since vegetarians are apparently much more prone to flatulence than carnivores. (I did not know that.)

 

So they looked at the amount of methane produced by microbes in the stomaches of the currently existent herbivore species most closely related to dinosaurs — cows. (I did not know that either.)

 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the world’s current cow population produces roughly 80 million metric tonnes of methane every year.

 

Then using known data about dinosaurs’ size and population patterns, the researchers came up with a mathematical model to extrapolate dinosaur fart production 100 million years ago from cow fart production today.

 

It all sounds a bit sketchy to me, but the scientists and mathematicians crunched their numbers and — ta-da! — calculated dinosaurs were pumping out about 472 million tonnes of methane gas a year back in the day.

 

One medium-sized sauropod could supposedly cut about 2675 litres of wind EACH DAY! That’s more than two tonnes, by my calculation.

 

I’ve been bowled over by elephant farts, so I can believe it … I guess. But two tonnes of farts a day?

 

Here’s what lead researcher Dave Wilkinson of Liverpool John Moores University had to say in a statement:

 

“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.”

 

In other words, dinosaur farts made a hot, humid, stinking, fetid environment even hotter, more humid, stinkier and more fetid.

 

So was Fox News right in saying, “Dinosaurs may have farted themselves to extinction?”

 

Well, the British study doesn’t make that claim and Paul Myers, a biology professor at the University of Minnesota, dismissed the extinction extrapolation as nothing but sensationalism.

 

Here’s how he put it in his Pharyngula science blog:

 

“The researchers didn’t say that at all. There is nothing about extinction in the paper; it would have been ridiculous and I was prepared to dismiss such a claim without even reading the paper (the Jurassic lasted 55 million years, the Cretaceous 80 million, with dinosaurs farting away throughout). But the paper makes no such claim, instead suggesting that the mass of herbivores during the Mesozoic would have made a substantial, but stable, contribution of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere that may have been partially responsible for the warmer, moister climate of the era and the greater primary production.”

So we’re still left with that giant asteroid smashing into the Yucatan Peninsula 65.5 million years ago as the most likely culprit in the dinosaurs’ extinction.

In the end, speculation about whether dinosaurs farted themselves to death or just made the world a hotter, nastier place is  … a lot of hot air.