As if worms weren’t already gross enough…

According to a March 4th article in LiveScience, burping worms may contribute to climate change. Yes, studies of the slimy little things show that nitrous oxide is emitted into the earth’s soil because of the large amount of nitrogen-converting microbes the worms gobble with every bite of soil.

Nitrous oxide, N2O, is more commonly known as that awkward laughing gas the dentist gives you (or for any of you nip/tuck fans, its the stuff that crazy doctor suffocated that dude with in the season finale!), but it can have a devastating effect on the environment. N2O is a powerful greenhouse gas, up to 310 times more detrimental than carbon dioxide. As a greenhouse gas, N2O absorbs and emits electromagnetic radiation in the thermal infrared stage.

Greenhouse gases are essential in determining and regulating the temperature of the Earth. Without these gases, our planet would be virtually uninhabitable, most likely a solid sheet of ice. However within recent decades the Earth has begun absorbing and emitting too much infrared radiation, causing the  atmosphere to radiate the overabundance of thermal infrared in all directions, resulting in the change of the steady state of our planet’s temperature known as the “greenhouse effect.”   

Now of course the amount of nitrous oxide produced by a single filter feeding earth worm is obviously not going to cause a global catastrophe. But according toPeter Stief, of the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Germany, “the difference can be huge on the scale of an individual lake or stream- as much as an eight-fold difference between situations where animals were and were not present.” This news has caused scientists to research beyond worms and onto aquatic animals.

Research found that water creatures that feed on lake bottoms and stream beds emit similar amounts of the poisonous gas as the worms do. Stief added however that “we have not discovered that the animals represent an environmental problem.” These chemical reactions occurring in small animal species found at the bottom of the food chain can cascade up the food chain, however the pollution that causes the nitrous oxide emissions ultimately comes from humans to begin with.

So in summary, water animals and Earth worms are slowly adding to the global warming dilemma but only because humans started the problem to begin with. Ah, the beauties of the circle of life! If I may reflect on a previous blog post, I suppose this is one more way that dirt does hurt.

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One Response to As if worms weren’t already gross enough…

  1. Wow- that is so crazy! I guess every little thing can contribute to climate change.

    I thought it was interesting that it the institute was named the Max Planck Institute- this was a scientist I studied last semester in Chem 111. He was a physicist responsible for some of the fundamental ideas of atoms and I thought it was odd that they named a marine institute after him. According to Wikipedia there are Max Planck Institutes from everything to economics and coal science.

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