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Global warming woes? Tiny ants might save Earth

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Researchers say that tiny ants may save the world from global warming woes by cooling the Earth.

Ronald Dorn, a geologist at Arizona State University in Tempe, who is also the lead author of the study, says that ants are altering the Earth's environment. The researchers say that an average ant does not live even for over a year but they help to reduce tiny bits of carbon dioxide gas from the Earth's atmosphere. An increase in ant population on the planet may help reduce global warming to a certain extent.

The scientists explain that some species of ant "weather" minerals to secrete calcium carbonate, which is also known as limestone. When these tiny creatures produce limestone, the process also removes and traps small particles of carbon dioxide gas from Earth's atmosphere.

Dorn compares the process to carbon sequestration, which occurs in the planet's oceans. The researchers say that the huge deposits of limestone in Earth's ocean bear more carbon, than what is present in the current atmosphere.

Dorn started his career around 25 years back and claims that he has found that tiny ants were great weathering agents by examining basalt sand breakdown. Dorn says that he buried basalt sand at six different sites in Arizona's Catalina Mountains and in Texas' Palo Duro Canyon. The scientist dug some sand from these sites once in years and analyzed the breakdown due to insect activity, water exposure and chemicals from tree roots.

The experiment reveals that ants degraded the minerals 50 to 300 times quicker, when compared to sand left untouched on ground. Dorn believes that the ants were possibly searching for magnesium and calcium from the sand and producing limestone. The process of making limestone trapped carbon dioxide in the rock. The conversion may have occurred when ants lick sand particles and then stick them to the walls of their nests. However, the entire process still remains a mystery.

"We don't know if they are licking it or pooping it, or if it's bacteria in the ant's gut or the fungi growing in the colonies," says Dorn.

The researchers say that it is very early to estimate how much atmospheric carbon dioxide gas is trapped in the process of ants making limestone.

The study has been published in the journal Geology.

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