How scientists learned about climate conditions hundreds of years ago is ‘batty’

Paleoclimate scientists studied bat guano deposited onto a cave floor in Romania

Scientists are learning more about climate conditions hundreds of years ago in Romania by analyzing bat poop deposited on a cave floor.

You read that correctly.

For hundreds of years, bats inhabited Mӑgurici Cave, about 200 miles away from the home of the fictional character, Count Dracula.

Over time, those bats built up a more than 9-foot-tall pile of excrement, also known as guano. The layers provide insight into how the temperature, precipitation, and plants growing in the area had changed, according to a 2018 report by the National Centers for Environmental Information.

Here’s how they did it.

Paleoclimate scientists study substances that accumulate over time.

After studying the guano and determining the time period as to when the layers were deposited onto the cave floor, scientists could examine the elements and isotopes within them to identify the conditions, according to the report.

Those scientists then looked at the isotopes of nitrogen and carbon and compared that information with climate patterns in the area.

A heavier isotope of nitrogen is taken in by plants during wetter periods and less nitrogen during drier periods because of some soil processes. The nitrogen left behind can be traced all the way from plants and bugs to bats and their excrement, and that provides a history of the climate in the area.

Carbon isotopes can also be traced back through the food chain. During wetter periods of time plants absorb a lighter carbon isotope while during drier periods they prefer a heavier carbon isotope.

Because of that information that was gathered, scientists were able to determine that the Medieval Warm Period (950 to 1250 AD) and Little Ice Age (1450 to 1850 AD) had major impacts on Romania’s climate.

Scientists are hopeful that the study can be used to determine future climate changes around the world.