Scientists must learn to live with extreme cold weather and geography in order to research ecosystems at the bottom of the planet. As Gizmodo reports, the intoxicating effects of penguin poop were not anticipated by a team of researchers visiting the island of South Georgia.
South Georgia is located in the South Atlantic, north of Antarctica and east of South America, and has been a popular destination for researchers interested in king penguins and their influence on the ecosystem in recent years.
Penguins have flocked to the freshly open terrain as the island’s glaciers have receded owing to climate change. Today, the island has a breeding population of roughly 300,000 king penguins. More penguin excrement has resulted from the increase of penguins, with the poop emitting more of the greenhouse gases that cause glaciers to melt in the first place.
The ecosystem isn’t the only thing affected by penguin guano fumes. Scientists from Denmark and China were in South Georgia to research this cycle when they became ill and confused. They had spent the whole day inhaling nitrous oxide, sometimes known as laughing gas.
“After nosing about in guano for several hours, one goes completely cuckoo. One begins to feel ill and get a headache,” Bo Elberling, a researcher at the University of Copenhagen’s Center for Permafrost, told the AFP.
In the journal Science of The Total Environment, he and his colleagues published a research on the association between glacier retreat, penguin activity, and greenhouse gas emissions.
Fish and krill are high in nitrogen, thus king penguins eat a lot of them. However, penguin poo does not include the same substances that dentists provide to their patients. When guano falls to the ground, soil bacteria convert it to nitrous oxide. The gas is terrible for the air as well as making it difficult for tourists to breathe.
Nitrous oxide has a 300-fold greater contaminating effect than carbon dioxide. According to the study, there isn’t enough nitrous oxide created on South Georgia to have a worldwide impact, but the quantity of waste left behind by the penguins will increase as the population expands.