Ocean Clams, Worms Release As Much Planet-Warming Greenhouse Gas As 20,000 Dairy Cows


Ocean clams and worms release significant amounts of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere that contribute to global warming. A new study reported in the journal Scientific Reports reveals a neglected source of greenhouse gas in the sea.

In a new study, researchers revealed that ocean critters produce large amounts of highly potent greenhouse gases namely methane and nitrous oxides from the bacteria in their guts.

Highly Potent Greenhouse Gases From The Ocean

Although carbon dioxide is widely blamed for climate change, methane is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to warming potentials. Nitrous oxide, on the other hand, is nearly 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

"Nitrous oxide molecules stay in the atmosphere for an average of 114 years before being removed by a sink or destroyed through chemical reactions. The impact of 1 pound of N2O on warming the atmosphere is almost 300 times that of 1 pound of carbon dioxide," the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said.

Methane Emissions From Baltic Sea

Methane was responsible for about 16 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in 2006. Cattle operations are known to contribute to methane emissions along with other human activities that include the production and transport of coal, gas and oil.

In a new analysis, researchers found that about 10 percent of the total methane emissions from the Baltic Sea can be attributed to clams and worms.

"Apparently harmless bivalve animals at the bottom of the world's oceans may in fact be contributing ridiculous amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere that is unaccounted for," said study researcher Ernest Chi Fru, from Cardiff University's School of Earth and Ocean Sciences.

Equivalent To Methane Produced By 20,000 Dairy Cows

The researchers estimate that this amount of methane emission from ocean critters is equivalent to that produced by 20,000 dairy cows, or about 1 percent of the entire dairy cow population in the UK.

"Through a combination of trace gas, isotope, and molecular analyses, we studied the direct and indirect contribution of two macrofaunal groups, polychaetes and bivalves, to methane and nitrous oxide fluxes from coastal sediments," the researchers reported in their study.

"Our results indicate that macrofauna increases benthic methane efflux by a factor of up to eight, potentially accounting for an estimated 9.5% of total emissions from the Baltic Sea."

The researchers said that stakeholders need to consider the potential impacts of promoting shellfish farming to large areas of the ocean.

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