Cow Gas

Picture via

Picture via

Once upon a time, in about 1776, the dashing Italian Count Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta fell to watching the gas bubbles that rose to the surface on the stunning Lake Maggiore.

Now, he thought to himself, what is that all about?

There was only one way to find out. Collect the gas and test it. And it was in this way that he uncloaked methane for the very first time.

It was generated from the rotting plants that lay at the bottom of the lake. Now scientists say plants sink to the bottom of the lake and begin to shed all their chemical signs of life: the oxygen, the iron, the nitrate and so on.

This causes a build up of hydrogen and carbon dioxide. And the final housekeepers of decay are methanogens: helpful microbes who make it all go away and leave methane in their wake.

As with any messy clear-up job there’s always a price to pay. The resultant gas has a few side-effects.

The most obvious one is the smell. Methane is not one of Mother Earth’s most edifying perfumes. It is a constituent of the flatulent gases of many mammals, especially those with more than one stomach.

Cows emit vast amounts of methane: primarily through belching, but a goodly amount through good, old-fashioned flatulence. It seems they are venting tens of gallons of the stuff each, daily.

And this constitutes quite a problem for the greenhouse-gas dilemma. New Zealand’s cows and livestock contribute 34 per cent of its greenhouse gases. Even in Britain 25-30 per cent of its methane comes from cows.

Welsh scientists at the University of Aberystwyth are busily prescribing garlic, which attacks those little methanogens. Early findings indicate the garlic appears to decrease methane by half.

But this gas is not all mundane flatulence and factfinding. It has fuelled many things in its time, and this includes conspiracy theories.

Aliens, for one.

The extra terrestrial theory goes like this: methane in the atmosphere of any planet doesn’t just stay there. Its amounts will dwindle unless there is life to make it large.

So when the Mars Express Orbiter verified theories that methane was present there, it set tongues a-wagging. A year later the Huygens Probe found it on Titan. One begins to wonder who has been there before us.

But it is argued volcanoes could be the manufacturers of the methane. We eagerly await clarification. Just maybe, we are not alone.

Methane may be a sign of life and a sign of decay: but it is a force in its own right.

Those little bubbles Volta spotted, centuries ago, are now thought to be one of the reasons for a throughly modern instance of  castle building in the air.

I speak of a triangle of sea, with Miami’s coast, San Juan and Bermuda at its three points.

Journalists presided over its conception in 1950. Associated Press reporter Edward Van Winkle Jones wrote about mysterious disappearances in the triangle covering the Straits of Florida, the Bahamas and the Caribbean.

Where AP led, others followed: Fate Magazine featured an article by George X Sands about the loss of several planes and ships in the area. The kookiest disappearance involved the US Navy Bomber flight 19, whose comments over the air before their disappearance  do sound a little unorthodox: “We are entering white water, nothing seems right. We don’t know where we are, the water is green, no white.”

This was not aided by the officials at the Navy board of inquiry into the disappearance, who are said to have stated that the planes “flew off to Mars.”  Supernatural theories abounded, spearheaded by Argosy’s Vincent Gaddis, who even published a book entitled imaginatively “The Deadly Bermuda Triangle”.g

One explanation for the disappearances centres on a suspect we have met before.

Scale models of ships can be sunk by small bubbles of methane, a series of experiments from Australia proved. On the continental shelves in the area, methane hydrates, aka natural gas, seem to have collected.

What if great big bubbles of it were responsible for sinking life-size vessels?

Ah, this Caliban of a gas: responsible for the basest of humour, depletion of the ozone layer, life on Mars and the mysterious disappearances of one of the worlds most notorious disappearance blackspots.

Talk about versatile.

This was a bovine gaseous repost. 


24 thoughts on “Cow Gas

  1. I’ve seen a documentary on the BT where an experiment showed a large boat being sunk by methane bubbles in seconds. But I’m not sure how those smelly bubbles could have reached out and snatched Flight 19… 😯

  2. I thought it was a gaseous riposte, for a moment, which is often the only reply worth giving to some points of view. Lovely article. There is a lot of methane around our little hamlet, especially when they spray pig shit all over the fields. My first thought at those times is “Oh God, has the fosse septique done something dreadful” and the I remember where I am.

  3. I, too, wondered if the garlic would affect the taste of the cow’s milk. Not good. But if it flavored the taste of the meat in beef cattle, that could be a very good thing …

  4. Dear Kate, if anything or anyone is versatile, it’s YOU! Thanks once again for taking my figurative hand and leading me into the corridors of the past that span that gap between a then an a now. Peace.

  5. All I can say is one of my favorite old movies is Gaslight, with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. Doesn’t sound so romantic now, does it? Speaking of gas, has Clive Bond’s tummy been free of wind? If so, I’m glad it’s blown over.

  6. I can’t help thinking about cows with garlic breath now, Kate… hopefully we’ll find out that we aren’t alone very soon, what with all the thousands of planets that are now being discovered!!!

  7. Good God! Daisy would be appalled. .. I have never understood how all the methane gas thingybobby can be blamed on cows, Daisy does not fart! She may release a slight sigh of air on occassion and will merely glow after exertion but she does NOt burp loudly after her dinner, loosen her belt, raise her right buttock and then fart. ( I am sorry to be so crude but really) This is a conspiracy to blame the cows. Men made up this theory. Farty, nasty, burpy men. i rest my case now. Good night darling. Keep the covers tucked firmly under you chin .. c

  8. You choose some very interesting topics to write on. Did you know that cow dung is an excellent manure for plants? And dried cow dung cakes are used as fuel in villages in India!

  9. A ‘bovine gaseous repost’ is my absolute favourite type of repost – hahaha 🙂 Very interesting facts and fictions there Kate – I do believe we are not the only farters in the universe (to believe so would be very earth centric indeed).

  10. I want to know more about the garlic. Really? cut in half? Imagine the potent odor that will bring about if we see some national or international agenda to feed cows more garlic. Now, how will it work on my husband?

  11. . . . and a post enjoyed once again by me. I remember the first time I flew over the Bermuda Triangle, sure I was about to fall into the abyss. Of course, I didn’t, though was a little, er, gassy.

  12. Of all the theories on the disappearances connected to the Bermuda Triangle, I love this one the best. Maybe the culprit is decaying vegetation or flatulent sea life in the ocean. What sea life can we encourage to take garlic tablets? Love this, Kate.

  13. I watched a documentary about how methane may have been responsible for stopping plane and ship engines in the triangle, I thought it was pretty interesting. What I’m not clear on is, are cows emitting that much more methane in their flatulence than, say, horse? Or bears or elephants? Why are cows the main culprit? So many questions.

  14. My head’s spinning with this one Kate. You start with an Italian count noticing gas bubbles rising to the surface of a gorgeous lake, to cows being grazing fart factories contributing to global warming, to the possibility of life “out there”, to the mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle. I need Excedrin and a fix of Macaulay and Bond, or at least one or the other to regain my bearings.

  15. …Very interesting as always….wow
    And to think I was Baptized in a cow pond…Seriously, I was.

    Of Garlic, I can not attest to first hand… but, we did make the
    mistake of butchering a cow that had been out to pasture too
    long once… and believe me…”Grassy Green Onions” Do Not
    Great Internal Marinade Make… For once I was not delighted
    to hear mama say we’re having steak for dinner.
    Bless You

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