Ancient animal urine provides insight into climate change

Oct 12, 2010
This image shows a hyrax basking in the sun. Credit: University of Leicester

( -- Scientists at the University of Leicester are using an unusual resource to investigate ancient climates– prehistoric animal urine.

The animal in question is the rock hyrax, a common species in countries such as Namibia and Botswana. They look like large guinea pigs but are actually related to the elephant. Hyraxes use specific locations as communal toilets, some of which have been used by generations of animals for thousands of years. The urine crystallises and builds up in stratified accumulations known as ‘middens’, providing a previously untapped resource for studying long-term climate change.

Funding from the Leverhulme Trust and, more recently, the European Research Council has allowed the Leicester group to join an international team led by Dr Brian Chase, from the Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution de Montpellier, to study these unique deposits. With Dr Chase, Drs Andrew Carr and Arnoud Boom from the University of Leicester’s Department of Geography are engaged in exploring novel records of past environmental change preserved within the middens.

Their work has recently been published in the journals Quaternary Research, Palaeogeography Palaeoclimatology Palaeoecology and Geology.

Dr. Brian Chase is abseiling to sample a midden. Credit: University of Leicester

“In order to study past environmental changes scientists typically acquire samples from deposits laid down in bogs or lakes, within which organic matter, which can be dated is preserved,” explains Dr Carr. “But in dryland environments such as southern Africa this isn’t possible. Fortunately it seems that hyrax urine preserves organic matter over timescales of tens of thousands of years, which provides remarkable insights into past environmental changes within the hyrax habitat.”

Obtaining the material is not easy and Dr Chase is an experienced rock-climber, which allows him to reach middens that are often otherwise inaccessible. The middens form extremely tough deposits, which have to then be cut from the rocks with an angle grinder.

Using forensic techniques the Leicester group has been able to identify the individual organic molecules preserved in the middens; these include compounds produced by the hyraxes’ metabolism and plant-derived molecules which passed through the animals’ digestive system. These ‘biomarkers’ provide clues as to the kind of plants the animals were eating and therefore the sort of environment they were living in. The biomarkers thus reveal insights into how the climate of the region has changed during the last 30,000 years, with a potential accuracy of a few decades to centuries.

“Palaeoenvironmental records in this area were fragmentary,” says Dr Carr. “The middens are providing unique terrestrial records to compare against nearby deep ocean-core records, allowing us to think in much more detail about what drives African .

“This is a very dynamic environment, and it appears that that the region’s climate changed in a complex manner during and after the last global Ice Age (around 20,000 years ago). The next step, which is part of Dr Chase’s new research project, will be to compare the midden data against simulations of past climates generated by GCMs [computer-based general circulation models that are used to simulate both past and future climates] to evaluate their performance and explore why climates have changed the way they have.”

Although the rock hyrax middens have been previously used to study pollen, this is the first time that their full potential to document the region’s climate has been explored. Drs Chase, Carr, Boom and their colleagues have already a number of scientific papers on hyrax , with more in production.

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User comments : 11

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4.8 / 5 (6) Oct 12, 2010
Oh to be considered an expert in hyrax urine is sure to be considered type cast.
2.5 / 5 (8) Oct 13, 2010
There is little or no evidence of CO2-induced global warming.

In fact, Earth's climate will change as long as massive planets like Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus keep moving and exerting an ever-changing gravitational pull on the Sun's energetic core.

See: Scientific Genesis - The Origin of the Solar System

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo

2.7 / 5 (7) Oct 13, 2010
The fact that you believe in that loony astrologer Landscheidt's theories is good evidence of just how far the butter has slipped off your noodles.
2.5 / 5 (8) Oct 13, 2010
Yes, I believe in cause and effect.

You prefer to believe Al Gore?
2.6 / 5 (5) Oct 13, 2010
"There is little or no evidence of CO2-induced global warming"

In fact, evidence against CO2-induced global warming continues to accumulate. It is only a matter of time until the floor drops out from under Al Gore and his friends. That's why they are in such a panic to get cap and trade passed before everyone finds out they have been fooled. Too bad for all the people clinging to the idea that they can become heroes by saving the planet from the inpending doom of environmental collapse. It really makes them 'feel good' to 'do something' for the environment. Without CO2 reduction as a goal, they'll have to find a new messiah for their faith.

I, for one, eagerly await data from our new fleet of space-based solar and earth observatories. Launced in recent years and just now starting to deliver results, those spacecraft should do quite a bit to correct the scorecard on climate change. It's going to get more and more difficult for alarmists to make false claims.
2.6 / 5 (5) Oct 13, 2010
"There is little or no evidence of CO2-induced global warming"

I, for one, eagerly await data from our new fleet of space-based solar and earth observatories. Launced in recent years and just now starting to deliver results, those spacecraft should do quite a bit to correct the scorecard on climate change. It's going to get more and more difficult for alarmists to make false claims.

When the facts are revealed, I would not want to be Al Gore and the world leaders that have abused science as a propaganda tool.

This short video shows some of the facts as revealed by honest science:

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo
5 / 5 (1) Oct 13, 2010
No youtube here at work, :(

I'll have to check that out when I get home later.
1 / 5 (1) Oct 13, 2010
Thanks, GSwift.

Your comments and questions would be appreciated.

1 / 5 (1) Oct 14, 2010
Okay, so how does Jupiter fit into this? The sun and Jupiter are two entirely different animals? If the sun is driven by neutron repulsion, then no matter how much hydrogen you add to a Juper-like planet you still won't end up with a sun? Or would you accumulate hydrogen and iron in eqaual proportions as the sun and then end up with another star? How does this fit into the seemingly observed progression by way of mass from a super-jupiter to a brown dwarf and then to a star? I'm not sure I follow the entire line of progression and how you could end up with a binary or trinary system. The neutron core would seem to be far too dominant in that proces and exclusive of multi-core systems.

Please bear with me. I only understand this stuff in the broadest terms. I also wonder about the implications of your theory in terms of relatifvistic physics. A neutron core should have very pronounced effects in terms of time and space distortions, shouldn't it? You're talking about a huge energy ...
1 / 5 (1) Oct 14, 2010
... energy density at the core of the sun if I'm understanding you correctly, right? Wouldn't there be some observeable characteristics of such a huge energy density, even at the distance of the sun's surface? If not, then there must surely be a void of some kind between the core and the observable layers? The gradient of energy density from the core outward can't be a simple one, can it?

I'm also curious about how your theory fits into the age of stars and the 'main sequence' progression. I'm sure you've thought about all this, but you seem like you'd like to share your thoughts, so I thought I'd ask. Please keep in mind that I'm a layman with barely enough vocabulary to keep up and about a quarter of the math skills.
1 / 5 (2) Oct 14, 2010
So Oliver K. Manuel you say "Little or no evidence". Which is it? Do you admit there is some evidence or think there is no evidence?
For someone with the supposed experience of 'Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo' your logic is seriously flawed and your scientific reasoning is verging on the lunatic (pun intended).
Might I suggest to Physorg that you are an imposter....and I'm sure that Physorg understand that legal recourse from the genuine Oliver K. Manuel might lead to a messy law suit....don't they?

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