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How wireless networks could keep cows from burping methane

Posting in Sustainability

Here’s a novel way to combat global warming: Settle the stomachs of gassy cows.

As it turns out, cow burps are a major contributor to global methane emissions, a troubling fact considering the gas is even more potent than carbon dioxide. With 1.2 billion methane-burping animals on the planet today, the digestive systems of livestock are worthy of examination.

CSIRO’s Sustainable Agriculture Flagship in Brisbane, Australia may have found an unlikely solution in wireless networks. By dropping electronic devices into cows’ stomachs, researchers hope to monitor what it is that makes the animals so gassy and to alter their diets accordingly.

New Scientist describes the wirelessly connected device:

Coated with a special membrane that helps it survive the harsh conditions inside, the plan is to pop them in the stomachs of whole paddocks of cows and connect them with an ad-hoc wireless network.

The device stays in the stomach for weeks and measures gas concentration using infra-red sensors. A pair of wings pops out after it enters the stomach and stops it from moving beyond the rumen - the chamber in a cow or sheep's stomach where much of the gas production occurs.

By measuring how much and when cattle produce methane, scientists hope to alter the cows’ diets to produce “low methane” animals.

CSIRO is also researching exactly how diet and feeding affect methane burps, Fast Co.Exist reports, but scientists still don’t completely understand how the two are related.

Image: Kevin Walsh/Flickr

[via Fast Co.Exist via New Scientist]

— By on December 2, 2012, 10:42 AM PST

Sarah Korones

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Sarah Korones is a freelance writer based in New York. She has written for Psychology Today and Boston's Weekly Dig. She holds a degree from Tufts University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure