Nitrous oxide , also called laughing gas, is highly insoluble in blood and other tissues, providing a rapid induction of anesthesia and, at the same time, rapid recovery after discontinuation of supply.
Nitrous oxide is also a powerful greenhouse gas, so the emissions of this gas are partially responsible, along with carbon dioxide, methane and some aerosols, for causing global warming. Penguins are great generators of this gas .
In a new study , published in Science of the Total Environment , researchers from the University of Copenhagen have shown that king penguins in Antarctica emit large amounts of nitrous oxide through their feces. As Bo Elberling from the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management at the University of Copenhagen explains:
Penguin guano produces significantly high levels of nitrous oxide around its colonies. Maximum emissions are approximately 100 times higher than in a recently fertilized Danish field. It is really intense, especially since nitrous oxide is 300 times more polluting than CO2.
Penguins’ favorite foods are fish and krill, which contain large amounts of nitrogen absorbed by phytoplankton in the ocean. Once excreted, bacteria in the soil then convert the substance into nitrous oxide .
While nitrous oxide emissions in this case are not enough to impact Earth’s global energy budget, our findings contribute to new insight into how penguin colonies affect the environment around them, which is interesting because colonies are generally becoming more and more widespread.