Study suggests dinos’ digestion caused prehistoric pollution

By Laura Wood

It’s a little reassuring to know that prehistory suffered from the same environmental issues that the country still struggles with today.

A recent study, published in the journal Current Biology, suggests that gassy dinosaurs are part of the reason they experienced global warming back in their already-warm world. Although the study doesn’t propose it was the only factor, the contribution was definitely large enough to be considered.

In other words, the dinosaurs belched and farted their way to a warmer Earth. Yummy.


The study uses sauropods — tiny-headed, long-necked herbivores that were presumably the largest and gassiest dinos of the Mesozoic Era — to calculate the amount of methane gas produced from their flatulence. The gas came from fermenting food in their massive stomachs for long periods of time because of their size.

Take a second to think about that. Many dinosaurs were huge; imagine what a single burp cloud would look like. It would probably take a thousand humans to match it!

Author David Wilkinson, of Liverpool John Moores University in England, estimated that about 570 million tons of methane came from the giant lizards’ bodily functions. To put this in perspective, that number is about the equivalent of all that’s produced today from gassy livestock, resource farming and fossil-fuel-burning industry, according to an Associated Press article.

Methane is a greenhouse gas that absorbs the sun’s infrared energy, keeps it close to the Earth’s surface and causes global warming.

In today’s world, landfills account for about one-third of all methane emissions in the United States, according to an article on the Energy Information Administration website.

While the prehistoric pooters experienced a greenhouse effect quite similar to the one that’s affecting our planet now, it helps to know that the greenhouse gas levels in their world were significantly higher than those of today, according to the AP article. Temperatures were also a little more tropical, at about 18 degrees warmer, and natural occurrences such as volcano eruptions released much more natural gases as opposed to now, according to the article.

Other factors in the pre-human global warming theory included swamps, water currents, shallow seas and plentiful plankton. These all combined to raise greenhouse gasses even higher than today, Wilkinson said in the article.


NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt ran calculations based on those published in the study to compare the difference between temperatures then compared to now. With all of the dinosaur gas permeating their air, the temperature rise amounted to about half a degree — and that’s only a fraction of what is caused by burning coal and oil here in the 21st century, he said in the AP article.

That said, I would prefer a bloated Brachiosaurus over a polluting power plant any day. It would even be a time traveler’s dream come true.

However plausible or farfetched this all may seem, surely there are a few more important issues to address in a publication about “current” biology than what kinds of fumes dinosaurs were expelling from their behinds more than 200 million years ago.