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Seabird Poop Could Keep the Arctic Cool, Scientists Say

Nov 17, 2016 04:51 AM EST
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Bird droppings may help keep Arctic temperatures cool. According to one study, ammonia-rich bird droppings have a cooling effect on Arctic temperatures.
(Photo : Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Bird droppings may help keep Arctic temperatures cool. According to the researchers, who published their study in the journal Nature Communications, bird poop that contains a high volume of ammonia has a cooling effect.

The researchers observed the summer atmosphere around Nunavut, Canada and discovered a spike in ammonia levels. The team also found that about the same time of year, massive colonies of seabirds are migrating in the area, Popular Science reports.

After model simulations of the chemicals in bird droppings, the researchers discovered that seabird guano could account for the increase in ammonia levels in the region.

Moreover, they found that ammonia emissions from decomposing bird guano react with sulfuric acid and water vapor to form clusters of molecules in the atmosphere, affecting cloud formation. The ammonia gas could affect a particular type of low-hanging clouds, which could reflect incoming sunlight and have a cooling effect on the region.

"This ammonia is a key ingredient in this series of processes and chemical reactions that can change the reflectivity of clouds," Gregory Wentworth, an atmospheric scientist at the Alberta Environment and Parks and co-lead author of the study, told CS Monitor.

The study findings could also resolve another baffling observation in the Arctic. According to Timothy Bates, an atmospheric chemist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who was not involved in the research, there has been an unusually new particle formation in the boundary layer in the summertime Arctic.

According to CS Monitor, this is not the first time scientists have made a connection between bird poop and particle formation. Rodney Weber, an atmospheric chemist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, discovered the same effect from a penguin colony on an island between New Zealand and Antarctica.

However, the researchers noted that while ammonia-rich bird droppings have a significant effect across the Arctic, they are not enough to counteract the rapidly rising temperatures in the region.

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