Y'know, don't you, that strain of climate contrarian humor that evokes SUVs so often? Maybe some scientists or other science-interested person makes note of the greenhouse effect on Venus, or during the Eemian or during the early Earth and dim Sun days. In a blink somebody hoots, hah! Tell it to Al Gore! Did they have SUVs back then or what!? Perhaps a few of them do so while looking proudly at giant Lexus GXs or Lincoln Navigators in the drive. Such things are superb vehicles, of a type that America invented and good for us. If you have a family and a horse trailer to haul and frequent need to get off the pavement, saddle-up. But they do look sort of stupid picking up one or two kids every day with their big motors idling in the line to get to the pick-up zone and the AC full-on or performing similar routine chores. Fact is, one doesn't see so many of the huge ones anymore. Maybe that's what the post-Cretaceous mammals asked after shaking off the comet dust. You seen any of those big things lately?
This week brought up another global warming gas news event that invites giggles, especially from headline writers. The news, in a letter that researchers in England and Scotland have in this week's Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, has a title that says it all: Could methane produced by sauropod dinosaurs have helped drive Mesozoic climate warmth? Good question, and that doesn't even count the hadrosaurs (duck bills), ceratopsians, and a bunch of other dinos that ate plants and presumably ate and erupted swampy vapors all their live long days. The answer to the title is yes, probably. The authors calculated biomass from published density estimates (an astounding dozen or so long-necked monsters per square km, or around 30 per square mile) times habitat area and so on and so forth, corrected for guesswork on how their methano-matabolisms compared to modern mammal herbivores, and bingo - about as much gas as from all the modern world's herds of livestock. Maybe more. And cows and things are presumed to drive a minor but not unimportant share of contemporary warming. It's of some interest that their letter closes with a thank you to the late Lynn Margulis "for infecting us with her microbial enthusiasm." That doesn't fit easily in news stories. But farts do.
- AP - Seth Borenstein: Excuse Me: Gassy dinosaurs helped warm Earth; His lede: Potty humor just got prehistoric.
- Reuters - Deborah Zabarenko: It's a gas: dinosaur flatulence may have warmed Earth ;
- Ars Technica - John Timmer: Belching dinosaurs may have helped keep their world warm ; Here's some good-natured writing for you. Timmer makes no fart jokes. But he does remark parenthetically to the journal editors, "I'm not sure that the Jurassic really qualifies as "current."
- The Independent - John Von Radowitz: Dinosaur wind 'altered climate' ;
- National Geographic - Charles Choi: Dinosaurs' Gaseous Emissions Warmed Earth?
- MSNBC Cosmic Log - Alan Boyle: Buuurp! Methane-emitting dinosaurs could have warmed the earth. Where we learn that one of the authors is agnostic on a burning question. He told Boyle, "We have no particular view which end of the sauropod the methane came out. Could be either or both." With livestock, Boyle helpfull tells readers, it's mostly via belch.
- Christian Science Monitor - Pete Spotts: Did dinosaur 'emissions' help warm the prehistoric climate? ;
- NewsCore (News Corps's agency_: Dinosaurs farted their way to extinction - scientists ; Nothing in the letter to the journal has anything about dinos cooked in their own gas. The story doesn't back it up either. Fox News ran this thing, natch under an even less ambiguous hed: Dinosaurs 'gassed' themselves into extinction, British scientists say. It even says here that, until now, scientists had blamed asteroids or volcanoes. Right. Burps and flatulence are now the lead theory? Once those fart jokes and whoopie cushions start going around some people, including in news rooms, can't get their minds straight for hours.
- Slate: Dinosaur Flatulence Dutch-Ovened the Jurassic Period ; First, the paper includes spuculation about the Cretaceous too. Second, this closing laff line at Slate, where wit is highly prized, don't got rhythm: "While this new research may not shed light on the “denied it, supplied it” or “smelt it, dealt it” theories, it does suggest that living during the time of the dinosaurs would have totally stunk." Stinkeroo indeed.
- BBC - Ella Davies: Dinosaur gases 'warmed the Earth' ;
Perhaps I'm wrong, but no reporter appears to have had the gumption to call around and ask just what percentage of global warming today can be put on farm animals, meaning domesticated herbivore methanogenesis. Is it five percent? What? LATE AMENDMENT: Seth B. saw this post, and answers thus:
Gavin Schmidt at NASA calculated that the 2 ppm of methane from dino farts would have contributed about .4 watts per meter squared (forcing), which means about 0.3 degrees C (.54 degrees F); and the study authors put current cow farts at 1/5 of dino belchings, so by extrapolation you’re looking at about a tenth of a degree F.
*Backdate UPDATE! A jolly and longtime science journalist who now handles science news for the University of Utah heard a bell clang in his head when he read this news. Thus we present:
- AP (Oct. 23, 1991) Lee Siegel: Dung shows dinosaurs produced Earth-warming gas ; Where one also reads that a skeptic from Penn State figured there's little chance there could have been enough dinosaurs to change things (skeptic, when it comes to greenhouse gases, meant something more legit in those days). The story has most of the elements one sees in the recent news. One notices with disappointment that the new paper at Current Biology does not include in its footnotes a citation of this late 20th century during the Holocene (before proclamation of the Anthropocene in many quarters) research into dinosaur dung and methanogenesis.
- Charlie Petit