Dinosaur gases may have altered climate

09 May 2012

Dr David Wilkinson's latest collaborative research has investigated whether dinosaur gases could have been a key factor in warming the planet 150 million years ago.

By scaling up greenhouse gas methane's output in modern animals, the researchers estimated that the population of dinosaurs - as a whole - could have produced 520 million tonnes of gas annually.

Dr Wilkinson, from LJMU's School of Natural Sciences and Psychology, and colleagues from the University of London and the University of St Andrews published their results in the journal Current Biology.

Focusing on methane levels in Sauropods (long-neck dinosaurs), which included some of the largest animals ever to live on land, the research also concentrated on the role of microorganisms.

Talking to the BBC, Dr Wilkinson said:

"The ecology of microbes and their role in the working of our planet are one of my key interests in science.

"Although it's the dinosaur element that captures the popular imagination with this work, actually it is the microbes living in the dinosaurs guts that are making the methane.

"We used modern zoology to make informed guesses and estimated methane levels of dinosaurs. This research does not propose that climate changed was responsible for the wiping out of the dinosaurs – in fact warm conditions would have been a benefit."

Previous studies have suggested that the Earth was up to 10C (18F) warmer in the Mesozoic Era.

"Cows today produce something like 50-100 million tonnes per year. Our best estimate for Sauropods is around 520 million tonnes", Dr Wilkinson told BBC Nature.

Current methane emissions amount to around 500 million tonnes a year from a combination of natural sources, such as wild animals, and human activities including dairy and meat production.

Dr Wilkinson added that dinosaurs were not the sole producers of methane at the time, saying:

"There were other sources of methane in the Mesozoic so total methane level would probably have been much higher than now."

The paper, Could methane produced by sauropod dinosaurs have helped drive Mesozoic climate warmth? is available to view at: http://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(12)00329-6

The research has received international press coverage with some highlights below:

BBC Nature http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/17953792

BBC Radio 4 PM: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b01h646c (27.54-31.46)

Guardian.co.uk http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/feedarticle/10231208

Telegraph.co.uk http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/dinosaurs/9250032/Dinosaurs-passing-wind-may-have-caused-climate-change.html

ABC Online http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2012/s3498317.htm

Page last modified by Corporate Communications on 10 May 2012.
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