Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Forecast For Argentina: Wind

Good Lord, where to start this one?

From our brave friends across the pond at the, I bring you this headline, the wording of which I had absolutely NOTHING to do with! Ahem.....

Cow farts collected in plastic tank for global warming study

I'm sorry, they f-ing did WHAT?!?

Cow farts collected in pla....

Oh, knock it off! It was a rhetorical question, for cryin' out loud!

Apparently, a cow has a slow digestive system. A really slow digestive system. That makes the cow one of the key producers of methane. Methane is one of your more potent greenhouse gases. You don't hear about it all that often because people are usually too busy harping about carbon dioxide and the carbon footprint. These scientists are getting busy harping about methane and the methane fartprint. (I'm sorry. I couldn't resist.) And they probably should because methane can trap the heat in the atmosphere about 23 times more effectively than carbon dioxide. (But, as I'm sure you are aware, it's much more important, with more complex issues such as the global warming, that the focus be directed squarely in the middle of that which is not of the most importance. I don't know why that is, but I think it has something to do with idiots.)

So it would seem that the cow's slow digestive system causes it to, um, break wind. A lot. And that, in turn, produces a lot of methane. But the scientists want to know what the impact of the methane is on global warming (which may or may not be happening, depending on whom you ask and whether or not you're wearing a parka right now).

In order to determine the effect of the methane, they need to figure out how much methane they're dealing with. In order to do that, they have to figure out a way to capture it so that it can be measured. (If you're still with me after reading that sentence, you'll know what's next. Not really. There's no way you'll see this coming.) They have decided that this would best be accomplished by running a tube from a plastic tank attached to the back of a cow into one of their four stomachs where the methane originates. When the methane is expelled (ie, flatulated), instead of going into the air, it will be captured in the tank for the scientists to later do something very scientific-y to in order to calculate the amount of methane and what to do about it. Behold! A methane producing bovine with a plastic tank strapped to it's back in Argentina:

Ah, geez. Look at him. On behalf of all non-bovine methane emitters, we're sorry.

So far, researchers (I use the term loosely, for cryin' out loud, and they should too) in Argentina have learned that the methane produced by the cows accounted for more than 30 percent of all of the Argentinian greenhouse emissions. If that seems like a lot, it's because it is, especially when you consider that Argentina has approximately 55 million cows grazing about there. (The cows are especially fond of the "famed Pampas grasslands". Note to self: Avoid famed Pampas grasslands when visiting Argentina.)

According to Guillermo Berra, who is a researcher at the NIAT (National Institute of Agricultural Technology), each cow produces between 800 and 1,000 liters of "emissions" every day. (That's a lot of Mexican food.) Guillermo and his cohorts are working in tandem with some folks over at the NCSTI (National Council of Scientific and Technical Investigations), presumedly also in Argentina. The NCSTI guys are trying out new diets for the cows. They're trying to improve their digestion, I guess by speeding it up? It's not really all that clear, and I'm not feeling like I need to ask anyone either.

Silvia Valtorta of the NCSTI, says that if a cow has a diet which consists of clover and alfalfa instead of grain that the "methane emissions are reduced by 25 percent." So instead of emitting between 800 to 1,000 liters of, um, cow-wind per day, they're only going to emit between 600 and 750 liters of, um, cow-wind per day. Doesn't seem like a lot, does it? Ah, well, at least it's something. It had better be at least something if they're going to make the cows look like bovine booster rockets.

Even though there are over 55 million cows in Argentina, they're only strapping the plastic tanks onto about 10 of them. And although that's a really small sample number, it's somewhat comforting to know that only 10 will be sporting the bovine backpack. Oh, and some of those cows are in a corral and their methane is collected in yellow balloons that hang from the roof. Of course it is.

Where, oh where is Gary Larson when we need him?

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