Copralitic News

This article vanished for a few days from the ICR’s website: here’s a screenshot of the (identical) original.

Brian’s really on top of the news, isn’t he? The “Sauropods killed themselves with their own farts” story has already gone from horribly reported pop-sci news story to chief annoyance of the science blog/podosphere (along with the space dinosaurs, of course) to ancient history. But Brian has dug up this fossil of a story, and, like with the case of the Gyres a few months ago, unsuccessfully tries to attack the story himself. So we get Did Dinosaurs Gas Themselves to Extinction?

Global temperature over the last 500 million years or so

They, of course, did not. The premise of the study – Could methane produced by sauropod dinosaurs have helped drive Mesozoic climate warmth? (full text) – was that there were enough Sauropods in the Mesozoic to produce enough methane to actually effect the climate of the time. Somehow, this was picked up by the media as meaning that dinosaurs became extinct via their farts. Which is silly, not least because sauropods were around for tens of millions of years, and it’s not exactly claimed that they only started farting at the end of that. Hence the popular headline is nonsense. Instead, the paper blames the dinosaurs for increasing the amount of methane in the atmosphere, which would have contributed to the warmer temperatures over the period they lived (see above).

Interestingly, young Earth creationist Brian cannot simply claim that they were around for millions of years without wiping themselves out and that therefore this is silly – after all, the world to him is only 6000 years old. So how is he going to explain it? He begins:

Popular news headlines purport that British researchers claimed that dinosaurs choked their ancient atmosphere with their own gas. For example, “Dinosaurs ‘gassed’ themselves into extinction, British scientists say,” according to Fox News online. Methane is a greenhouse gas and a natural byproduct of metabolizing plant matter, and many believe that excess methane production could cause catastrophic greenhouse warming on earth. But headlines like these misrepresent two key areas.

Mr Thomas himself is hardly without sin when it comes to such bad headlines – “Scientists Late to Recognize Human and Giant Mammal Coexistence” was only two days ago, after all. It’s also interesting that Fox of all organisations would report on this story. The Science…sort of podcast linked above suggests that they were taking the ‘stupid scientists, look what they’ve come up with now’ angle, which would explain why their coverage was among the worst.

First, some of these news reports were simply inaccurate. For example, the British scientists did not say that any dinosaur-made methane caused extinction. In their paper, published in Current Biology, the scientists calculated the estimated volume of methane produced by sauropod dinosaurs. They based that on estimates from fossil indications about the number of dinosaurs and how much plant matter they probably ate.

I wonder what effect using the biblical chronology would have on this, as that would have all the dinosaurs alive during a short period. Would that make there be around a billiondiplodocus alive at the same time? Perhaps.

Their study concluded that, because sauropod-produced methane would have rivaled the total methane production from all modern sources, those fascinating long-necked dinosaurs “could potentially have played a significant role in influencing climate through their methane emissions.” But “influencing climate” is rather different than “gassing themselves into extinction.”

Yes, that’s the key here. But that doesn’t make a good headline, does it?

Both news and research headlines misrepresented a second key area—the big picture of dinosaur extinction in history. Fox News wrote, “Until now, an asteroid strike and volcanic activity around 65 million years ago had seemed the most likely cause of their extinction.”

This is what I mean about how bad the Fox report is. So bad even Mr Thomas can easily show it be so. But what’s wrong with the research?

But the very fact that all earth continents contain dinosaur fossils, including trackways, clearly shows that the most likely cause of dinosaur extinction was a widespread watery cataclysm like the Flood of Noah. Successive waves during the year-long Flood, not an impact from space, would have produced the fast-moving, continent-covering mud that mixed land creatures with sea creatures worldwide, just as the fossils show.

And this shows why the fact that Brian knows more than you do is so damning. Nobody is claiming that the asteroid actually buried the dinosaurs, just wiped them out – except B.T. “Fast-moving, continent-covering mud” does not accurately describe fossilisation, anyway.

Could sauropod methane have significantly influenced the climate in the pre-Flood world? The answer is yes. But just as with nitrogen, carbon dioxide, water, and other atmospheric gases, methane levels are constantly maintained and monitored by organisms found across the globe. Thus, if sauropods produced more methane, then methane-utilizing microbes would have balanced it so that atmospheric methane would not have reached toxic levels.

[Footnote:] Methanotrophs are microbes that metabolize methane as their source of carbon and energy. They grow either in the presence or absence of oxygen, in oceans, mud, soil, marshes, and especially near methane sources.

The trouble here is that even though these microbes would metabolise the excess gas, it would still build up. Consider an overflowing bucket of water, with more water being poured into it. If you increase the rate of pouring the extra water will indeed flow over the side. And yet the water level will rise. It’s just a question of how much.

So, did dinosaurs gas themselves to extinction? The answer is no.

At least we are all in agreement on that point.

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2 thoughts on “Copralitic News

  1. I had trouble finding this particular Thomas article on the ICR website just now.

    A couple of weeks back the BBC News website was reporting ‘Arctic melt releasing ancient methane’. Though the ICR would presumably label it ‘recent’ methane.

    • I knew I kept screenshots for a reason – it has indeed vanished.

      It will be interesting to see whether he comments on that story. I’m not sure what he would say…

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