Dinosaur intestinal gases possible cause of Prehistoric global warming

Forget about carbon emissions and greenhouse gases (GHGs) generated by humans. Sauropods — the long-necked, long-tailed dinosaurs that included some of the largest terrestrial animals ever known— could have been the first to warm the Earth's climate thanks to their massive amounts of methane-producing flatulence, says the Tuesday's edition of Current Biology.

Researchers believe that, just as in cows, methane-producing bacteria aided the digestion of vegetal-eaters sauropods by fermenting their plant food.

"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," said study leader Dr. Dave Wilkinson, from Liverpool John Moores University, as quoted by e! Science News:

"Indeed, our calculations suggest that these dinosaurs could have produced more methane than all modern sources — both natural and man-made — put together."

Co-researcher Graeme Ruxton from St. Andrews University in Scotland and Wilkinson worked out just how much of the greenhouse gas the billions of dinosaurs would have generated during the Mesozoic era, starting 250 million years ago.

They concluded the dinosaur output of 520 million tons is comparable to current natural and man-made emissions of the greenhouse gas, which scientists say is around 21 times more powerful than CO2 at trapping heat on Earth and causing climate change. Cows and other farm animals globally contribute up to 100 million tons of methane a year.

(Photo: Mounted skeleton of Apatosaurus louisae, Carnegie Museum, from Wikipedia)