King penguins marching on beach at st.andrews bay, South Georgia

641300156

King penguins marching on beach at st.andrews bay, South Georgia

Photo by: David Merron Photography

David Merron Photography

Scientists in Antarctica Get the Giggles from Penguin Waste

By: Leah Weber

King penguin poop is causing some issues for scientists in Antarctica. This flightless bird's guano releases nitrous oxide, a gas that is known commonly as laughing gas.

May 20, 2020

What Goes In...

Penguins, like most living organisms on the planet, ingest food for energy, and once it's processed, it needs to make an escape. Known as guano in the scientific community, penguin poop releases a byproduct that makes scientists a little loopy.

A study done by scientists at the University of Copenhagen to get to the bottom of a greenhouse gas problem in Antarctica discovered that the guano collected and studied contained high levels of nitrous oxide.

520954498

Photo by: Michael Kai

Michael Kai

Bo Elberling, professor and lead researcher on this study discussed how the nitrous oxide affected the scientists on this project. "After nosing about in guano for several hours, one goes completely cuckoo. One begins to feel ill and get a headache."

Nitrous oxide is commonly mixed with oxygen and distributed in a controlled environment by dental professionals as a sedative, known as laughing gas. It is also used as a propellant for whipped cream or as a recreational drug. In large, unregulated quantities, nitrous oxide can be detrimental to one’s health.

Trapped Gas

Look, bird poop can be funny to talk about, but the real reason for the University of Copenhagen's study was to determine just how much the guano was contributing to greenhouse gas emissions in Antarctica.

Elberling explains, "While nitrous oxide emissions in this case are not enough to impact Earth’s overall energy budget, our findings contribute to new knowledge about how penguin colonies affect the environment around them, which is interesting because colonies are generally becoming more and more widespread."

121764243

Photo by: Mike Hill

Mike Hill

The study concluded, that the more penguins present, result in more guano, which ultimately means more gasses emitted. Understanding the sources of greenhouse gasses all over the world will help combat climate change. So some scientists had to get a little loopy, a small price to pay for the health of our planet!

Next Up

Galápagos Giant Tortoises Are Mysteriously Turning Up Dead in Ecuador

Despite the tough protections, there has been a spate of tortoises killed in recent months, and officials fear the animals have been slaughtered for their meat.

Supertrees That Suck Up More Carbon Could Be Forest Climate Fix

Forestation and tree growth are perhaps the most powerful tool for reducing levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) in Earth’s atmosphere and tackling climate change. Now genetically modified (GM) ‘supertrees’ that grow faster and rapidly take up CO2 could be used to address the climate crisis.

Helping the Los Angeles River Change Course

As a human trying to commute from Long Beach to Downtown Los Angeles to the hills of Pasadena, you probably already know that you’ll be making your way on infamous, traffic-clogged roads filled with obstacles to be avoided.

Is Climate Change Killing More Elephants than Poachers?

Kenya’s Wildlife and Tourism Board has announced that climate change is now a bigger threat to elephant populations than poaching. Kenya is currently facing an extreme drought that is threatening the livelihoods of people and wildlife within the area.

Channel Islands: A Tale of Two Worlds

Channel Islands National Park is one of the least visited national parks in the United States, yet it is only about 20 miles from the coast of Los Angeles and the bustling surf and sand lifestyle of Southern California.

Year in Review: Nature in Focus Adventures

For many years I've looked back on the year in review and thought about all of the incredible adventures I've experienced and this year is no exception.

How Frogs Boost Their Sex Appeal

Male frogs form ‘boy bands’ to serenade females and woo them into their mating pool.

If A Bat Were To Bite You In Your Sleep, You'd Probably Never Know

Rabies is rare, but most cases are associated with bats.

Saving Hawaii’s Native Species

Not so very long ago, Hawaii was a remote island, populated solely by endemic flora and fauna–and its native inhabitants. Now, however, it is known throughout the world as a must-visit tourist destination, while Americans have moved to the islands in their masses, buying up beachfront properties.

There is Hope for the Future of Polar Bears Threatened by Climate Change

Scientific researchers have recently identified a sub-population of polar bears in southeastern Greenland that survive by hunting on glacial slush. The discovery of their unique behaviors is helping scientists understand the future of this species whose habitats are threatened by climate change.