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How Bird Poop Helps Keep The Arctic Cool

It appears that seabirds are inadvertently doing their part to combat climate change every time they leave their guano — or poop — on the rocky hillsides of the Arctic.

It appears that seabirds are inadvertently doing their part to combat climate change every time they leave their guano — or poop — on the rocky hillsides of the Arctic.

Newly published research conducted by atmospheric chemists at Dalhousie University and the University of Toronto and published in Nature Communications adds to a growing body of evidence that animals can affect the climate.

The chain of events starts with fish. Because seabirds consume fish, their guano is rich with uric acid, a nitrogen-containing molecule. After the birds poop, the uric acid in the guano is then broken down by bacteria — unleashing about 40,000 tons of ammonia into the atmosphere every summer.

Once airborne, the ammonia clusters with sulfuric acid and water vapor and forms tiny aerosol particles, eventually creating clouds. The team found that these low-lying clouds then help reflect solar radiation and can have a cooling effect on the region.

While the researchers said the effect is significant, it is not enough to offset rising temperatures in the region. They also pointed out that changes in migration patterns of these birds caused by climate change could further speed warming.  

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