Bird Droppings Might Help Keep Arctic Cool

Posted: Nov 21 2016, 10:17am CST | by , Updated: Nov 21 2016, 10:28am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 

Bird Poop Might Help Keep Arctic Cool
Credit: Alex Moravek
 

The ammonia-rich bird poop has a cooling effect on the atmosphere above the Arctic region

Researchers have discovered a surprising link between seabirds and Arctic cooling process. 

Every year, millions of birds migrate to Arctic regions during the summertime and fill the air above with high concentrations of ammonia through their droppings or guano. In the latest study, researchers have found that ammonia-rich excrement of migratory seabirds change the chemical properties of the clouds and make them more reflective, which actually has a cooling effect on the atmosphere. However, no connection between such droppings and temperature changes was ever made – until now.

A team of Canadian atmospheric researchers and their international colleagues made a trip to the Canadian Arctic two years ago and collected the air samples for the study. They noticed a significant rise in ammonia level during certain times of the year. Initially, they attributed it to sea water but testing revealed that it was not the case. Eventually, they figured out where the ammonia was coming from. The logical candidate was the birds flying over the Arctic region.

Using a combination of observations and computer modeling, researchers have assessed the impact of Arctic seabird droppings on atmosphere and formation of clouds. Researchers found that higher levels of ammonia turned the clouds into a kind of protective shield that partially blocks the harsh rays of sun and cools the area below.

“We identified a fascinating, albeit somewhat comical, connection between Arctic seabirds, atmosphere particles, clouds and climate.” Lead researcher Betty Croft from Dalhousie University said.

Ammonia is the key factor here which starts to interact with other gases once it enters the atmosphere and create particles. These atmospheric particles do not form clouds but can change the chemistry of the existing ones. And these ammonia-rich clouds play a critical role in control in Arctic temperatures. 

Now that researchers know that the ammonia coming from seabird poop can affect clouds, seabird guano has become an intense topic of research in climate science.

“The findings are surprising, and support the precautionary principle; there are likely (other, similar) interconnections between the living and non-living components of Earth’s climate system that we don’t yet understand.” Co-author Dr Rendell Martin, the head of Atmospheric Composition Analysis Group at Dal said. 

The region of Arctic is highly vulnerable to climate changes and in turn, it affects the climate across the globe. Understanding climate impacts related to atmospheric particles and clouds is necessary to slow down or even prevent climate change.

“The Arctic, as we know, is experiencing rapid warming,” said Croft. “It is very important to understand the set of interconnections that exist within the arctic climate system.” 

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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