ScienceShot: Dino 'Gas' Warmed the Earth

7 May 2012 1:50 pm

Excuse you. Researchers have found that immense herbivorous dinosaurs may have produced enough methane gas—essentially burps and flatulence—to substantially boost global temperatures. The group of dinosaurs known as sauropods—plant eaters famed for their long necks and gargantuan size, such as those shown in an artist's reconstruction above—were common members of many ancient ecosystems. Previous research hints that each square kilometer of well-vegetated area may have supported between 11 and 15 sauropods, which together could have weighed about 200 metric tons. Using methane-production data for modern gut bacteria, researchers estimate that over the course of a year, sauropods worldwide would have produced about 520 million metric tons of the greenhouse gas. That's roughly the amount of methane entering the atmosphere each year from all of today's sources combined—including agriculture, beef and dairy production, wetlands, and forest fires—and about three times the amount of annual preindustrial emissions, the team estimates in the 8 May issue of Current Biology. Because methane has about 25 times the planet-warming power of carbon dioxide, the gas generated by sauropods alone could have warmed the planet almost as effectively as all of the carbon dioxide in today's atmosphere, data from other studies suggest.

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