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Earth

Methane Producing Dinosaurs May Have Changed Climate 264

Hugh Pickens writes "The Telegraph reports that huge plant-eating dinosaurs called sauropods may have produced enough greenhouse gas by breaking wind to alter the Earth's climate. Scientists believe that, just as in cows, methane-producing bacteria aided the digestion of 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,' says study leader Dr Dave Wilkinson. 'Indeed, our calculations suggest that these dinosaurs could have produced more methane than all modern sources — both natural and man-made — put together.' The key factor is the total mass of the animals which included some of the largest animals to walk the Earth, such as Diplodocus, which measured 150 feet and weighed up to 45 tons. Medium-sized sauropods weighed about 20 tons and lived in herds of up to a few tens of individuals per square kilometer so global methane emissions from the animals would have amounted to around 472 million tons per year, the scientists calculated. Sauropods alone may have been responsible for an atmospheric methane concentration of one to two parts per million (ppm), say the scientists and studies have suggested that the Earth was up to 10C (18F) warmer in the Mesozoic Era. ''The Mesozoic trend to sauropod gigantism led to the evolution of immense microbial vats unequaled in modern land animals. Methane was probably important in Mesozoic greenhouse warming. Our simple proof-of-concept model suggests greenhouse warming by sauropod megaherbivores could have been significant in sustaining warm climates.'"

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