Once Upon A Time They Blamed Termites. Maybe they were right.
TERMITE GAS EXCEEDS SMOKESTACK POLLUTION
By WALTER SULLIVAN
Published: October 31, 1982
For several years scientists have been warning that carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by increased burning of fuel is likely to alter world climates, like a greenhouse, by inhibiting the escape of heat into outer space.
Now researchers report that termites, digesting vegetable matter on a global basis, produce more than twice as much carbon dioxide as all the world’s smokestacks.
Termite gas production has become particularly high, the researchers say, because widespread clearing of land has offered them abundant food in the debris of felled forests. By digesting this debris, they are adding not only carbon dioxide but also methane to the atmosphere. Other researchers have found that methane in the atmosphere is increasing 2 percent a year.
The high level of termite gas production is reported in the Nov. 5 issue of the journal Science. The authors measured termite gas production inside laboratory jars. In Guatemala forests, they enclosed a huge arboreal termite nest in a Teflon bag to confirm that the insects were prolific producers of methane.
As pointed out Wednesday by one of the researchers, James P. Greenberg of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., termites are far more abundant than most people realize. He estimated that there were three quarters of a ton of termites for every person on earth.
Another author of the report, Patrick R. Zimmerman of the atmospheric center in Boulder, said that plant respiration and decay added 10 to 15 times as much carbon dioxide to the air as termites. While the contribution of fuel burning is even less, it is superimposed on what, until recently, had been a balanced cycle of gas production and absorption by plants, the seas and other reservoirs.
The findings concerning carbon dioxide and methane production by termites do not offer much comfort regarding the long-term trend in atmospheric gases. The output from insects does not appear likely to increase greatly, while combustion of fuel is rising steadily as developing nations industrialize.
Other authors of the Science article were Dr. Paul J. Crutzen, director of the Max Planck Institute for Atmospheric Chemistry in Mainz, West Germany, and S.O. Wandiga of the University of Nairobi in Kenya.
The steady rise in methane was reported by Dr. Reinhold A. Rasmussen and Dr. M. Aslam Khan Khalil of the Oregon Graduate Center last year. They said human activity was also releasing increasing amounts of other gases that threatened climate, including carbon dioxide and fluorocarbons, which are used in refrigeration.
The possible significance of increased methane in the atmosphere touched off a debate in 1971 on whether supersonic transports might alter the stratosphere. Dr. S. Fred Singer, then at the University of Maryland, suggested that other human activities, including intensive cattle-fattening, were more important. He cited an estimate that bovine flatulence added 85 million tons of methane to the atmosphere each year. The new estimate for termites is 150 tons.”
One thought on “Once Upon A Time They Blamed Termites”
Very impressive study. I am really shocked to hear that tiny termites can ever cause CO2 pollution and on such a big scale which can increase earth pollution.However there is a question that if termites are realy causing so much pollution then why earth was not polluted before industrial age when mankind started producing CO2 on massive scale