Preserving the Environment

Do Ants Hold the Key to Reducing Pollution?

August 22, 2014
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Do Ants Hold the Key to Reducing Pollution?
A new study has found that ants may speed up the absorption of carbon dioxide in rocks. Nurcholis Anhari Lubis/Getty Images
A new study has found that the tiny insects speed up the absorption of carbon dioxide in rocks.

Ants — some bite, some eat wood and others just come crawling when there’s food left out on the counter. Turns out, however, that these insects (that most of us find downright annoying) could be helpful in reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

How so?

A recent study from Arizona State University, conducted by geology professor Ronald Dorn, found that the presence of ants can cause certain rocks to capture carbon dioxide, therefore preventing it from going into the atmosphere. This CO2 absorption isn’t small either. Ants can increase the natural amount a rock takes in by up to 335 times.

What’s the secret to this powerful partnership? Well, even Dorn doesn’t quite seem to know yet. In fact, he basically discovered the connection by accident. Back in the early 1990s, he was conducting a study about the weathering of minerals, and one of the rocks he was studying happened to become ant-infested. The bugs were annoying to him, pouring out whenever he tried to drill for a sample. Over time, however, he realized their effect on capturing carbon dioxide.

Even without the help of insects, though, rocks absorb a lot of carbon from the air.

The dangerous polluter seeps into calcium and magnesium deposits found in many rocks, which then transforms into limestone or dolomite. If it weren’t for rocks taking in carbon, our earth would be a whole lot warmer and air dirtier than it already is.

“When I take students on field trips, I make them kiss the limestone, because that limestone is just CO2 that’s just locked up in rocks and how Earth has remained habitable,” Dorn told Scientific American.

With carbon-rich rock already having contributed so much to our environment, the effect of ants speeding up the process could be huge. After all, there’s an estimated 10 trillion of the tiny insects on earth at our disposal. Even better would be if researchers could figure out exactly what the ants do to the rock to make it absorb carbon faster. Then, the solution could be mass-produced.

Until that’s the case, we’ll just have to settle for welcoming ants into our yards and enjoying our little patch of cleaner air.

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