Satellite map reveals that animal waste pollution is much worse than thought

Satellite map reveals that animal waste pollution is much worse than thought as it identifies 178 new hotpots of ammonia from faeces and urine that can cause death

  • Ammonia (NH3) is a colorless waste gas that’s present when animals defecate
  • However, high amounts can crop failure, animal disease and even human death 
  • Data compiled over nine years could help track a country’s ammonia footprint  

Peter Lloyd for MailOnline

A map of animal waste hotspots created from data captured from space has revealed the world’s worst areas for ammonia pollution.

Satellite images have provided previously-unseen information about the atmospheric chemical, which is released when animals defecate and urinate.

The naturally-occurring gas can be toxic for people, livestock and crops when high quantities mix with other compounds. 

This can result in lung disease and even death, but its colourless appearance previously made it difficult to track and regulate emission levels. 

Now, researchers at Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) in Belgium, have done exactly that by identifying the world’s top 242 sources – two thirds of which were previously unknown. 

The map also uncovered 178 wider emission zones, many of which were previously unknown. 

Combining nine years of satellite data from the the European Space Agency's MetOp satellite mission, the result is billed as the most comprehensive map of global ammonia pollution, ever

Combining nine years of satellite data from the the European Space Agency’s MetOp satellite mission, the result is billed as the most comprehensive map of global ammonia pollution, ever

Combining nine years of satellite data from the the European Space Agency’s MetOp satellite mission, the result is billed as the most comprehensive map of global ammonia pollution, ever. 

The discovery of these precise locations published in the journal, Nature, will potentially allow nations to manage their own ammonia footprint more effectively. 

It includes the worst offender, Eckley in Colorado, and Tulare, California, plus the Ukraine’s Cherkasy. 

Typically, the greatest causes of ammonia pollution stem from livestock farming, but ammonia-based fertiliser is also responsible.

Lake Natron in Tanzania is the only naturally-occurring source, likely caused by lots of algae and other matter decaying in the drying mud.

Moreover, the map also shows that levels of ammonia pollution were previously under-estimated.

‘Ammonia emissions in many countries are currently increasing, even in the European Union, which has committed to achieving an overall reduction of 6 percent by 2020 and 19 percent by 2030, compared with 2005 levels,’ Mark Sutton and Clare Howard, two researchers at the NERC Centre for Ecology Hydrology in Edinburgh, Scotland, wrote in a letter also published in Nature. 

‘Combined with atmospheric models … satellite technology offers a valuable independent tool with which to check whether countries are really achieving their goals.’ 

Management: The discovery of these precise locations published in the journal, Nature, will potentially allow nations to manage their own ammonia footprint more effectively

Management: The discovery of these precise locations published in the journal, Nature, will potentially allow nations to manage their own ammonia footprint more effectively

The news comes just weeks after scientists claimed that the greenhouse gasses from livestock could be unnecessarily high – because of the diet they’re fed by competitive cattle farmers.

Co-founder and managing director of Switzerland’s Agolin, Kurt Schaller, told Reuters its formula can reduce bovine flatulence by 10 per cent.

And, in turn, this could save the environment by tackling global warming.

The United Nations says livestock farming alone is responsible for up to 18 percent of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. 

COULD FEEDING COWS SEAWEED CUT GREENHOUSE GASSES? 

Scientists believe feeding seaweed to dairy cows may make cattle more climate-friendly.

Researchers found a cow’s methane emissions were reduced by more than 30 per cent when they ate the ocean algae.

In research conducted by the University of California, in August, small amounts of it were mixed into the animals’ feed and sweetened with molasses to disguise the salty taste.

As a result, methane emissions dropped by almost a third. 

‘I was extremely surprised when I saw the results,’ said Professor Ermias Kebreab, the animal scientist who led the study.

‘I wasn’t expecting it to be that dramatic with a small amount of seaweed.’

The team now plans to conduct a further six-month study of a seaweed-infused diet in beef cattle, starting this month.


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