To study ecosystems at the bottom of the world, scientists need to learn to deal with extreme weather and geography. One thing that a group of researchers visiting South Georgia Island wasn't prepared for was the intoxicating effects of penguin poop, reports Gizmodo.
South Georgia is in the South Atlantic north of Antarctica and east of South America and more recently it has become a great place to study King Penguins and their environmental impact. When the glaciers on the island withdrew due to climate change, an influx of penguins filled the newly opened land. The island today supports a king penguin population of approximately 300,000 adult breeders. The rise of penguins has resulted in more penguin droppings, with the droppings releasing more of the same greenhouse gases that primarily cause glaciers to melt.
The environment is not the only thing that is susceptible to the penguins gases from penguin guano. Scientists from Denmark and China were in South Georgia to study this cycle when they started to feel sick and crazy. They had spent the day breathing nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas.
“After snooping around in guano for several hours, you go completely into the cuckoo. You start to feel sick and get a headache, ”Bo Elberling, a researcher at the Center for Permafrost at Copenhagen University, told AFP. He and his colleagues published a study on the relationship between glacier retreat, penguin activity, and greenhouse gases in the journal Science of The Total Environment .
King penguins eat a lot of fish and krill that are rich in nitrogen. But penguin droppings alone don't contain the same material that dentists give their patients. When the guano gets into the soil, microbes in the soil convert it into laughing gas. The gas not only makes it difficult for visitors to breathe, it also damages the air. The environmental impact of laughing gas is 300 times higher than that of carbon dioxide. According to the study, enough laughing gas is not produced in South Georgia to have a global impact, but as the penguin population increases, the amount of waste they leave behind increases.