Science

The Surprising Way Seabird Poop Helps Keep the Arctic Cool

New research suggests that the ammonia in seabird waste plays a part in the formation of sunlight-reflecting clouds.

There's no end to the unexpected ways nature is interconnected, but this is definitely one of the more humorous examples.  

According to new research in Nature Communications, once ammonia in seabird waste gets released into the atmosphere, it interacts with water and sulfuric acid particles to create the basic building blocks for low-lying clouds, which reflect sunlight and help keep Arctic waters cool.

The researchers first made the connection between seabirds and ammonia in another paper earlier this year, when they found "strong evidence" that ammonia bursts in the Arctic were tied to the tens of millions of seabirds that head north during the summer.

Now, this news might have you thinking: "Puffin poop is our secret weapon to fighting climate change! We must have more puffin poop!"

Not so fast. While the abundance of ammonia helps contribute to cooling, the researchers note that it is not nearly enough to combat the negative effects of climate change in the Arctic, which includes shrinking sea ice at unprecedented rates.

Even still, better understanding the relationship between seabirds and the atmosphere is a good reminder of the complexity of nature and the importance of protecting the Arctic and the wildlife that calls it home. After all, every little bit (of poop) counts.

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