WASHINGTON -- Potty humor just got prehistoric. A new study suggests that dinosaurs may have helped keep an already overheated world warmer with their flatulence and burps 200 million years ago.
The research published yesterday in Current Biology suggests that large dinosaurs made a significant contribution to the greenhouse effect back then. Study author David Wilkinson of Liverpool John Moores University in England estimated that about 570 million tons of methane came from dinosaurs. That's similar to the total atmospheric levels of methane produced today by livestock, farming and industry.
The study looks at the biggest, and presumably gassiest, dinosaurs, called sauropods. They were the long-necked plant eaters that munched on the top of trees. They were large animals that had food fermenting in their guts for long periods of time because of their giant size, said University of Maryland paleontologist Thomas Holtz, who wasn't part of the study.
Wilkinson said dinosaur gas was just one factor when the world was quite tropical, about 18 degrees warmer than now. But he said some misinterpret his study to say it was the main cause of ancient warming.
Some experts say the study makes some sense but that the warming from dinosaur gas is dwarfed today by man-made carbon dioxide. University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver said, "Frankly, methane emissions from dinosaur burps is probably not the No. 1 thing we should be concerned about in modern society."