Academic journal article Science Scope

Microorganisms in the Troposphere

Academic journal article Science Scope

Microorganisms in the Troposphere

Article excerpt

In what is believed to be the first study of its kind, researchers used genomic techniques to document the presence of significant numbers of living microorganisms--principally bacteria--in the middle and upper troposphere, that section of the atmosphere approximately four to six miles above Earth's surface.

Whether the microorganisms routinely inhabit this portion of the atmosphere--perhaps living on carbon compounds also found there--or whether they were simply lofted there from Earth's surface isn't yet known. The finding is of interest to atmospheric scientists, because the microorganisms could play a role in forming ice that may affect weather and climate. Longdistance transport of the bacteria could also be of interest for disease transmission models.

The microorganisms were documented in air samples taken as part of NASA's Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes program to study low- and high-altitude air masses associated with tropical storms. The sampling was done from a DC-8 aircraft over both land and ocean, including the Caribbean Sea and portions of the Atlantic Ocean. The sampling took place before, during, and after two major tropical hurricanes--Earl and Karl--in 2010.

Aboard the aircraft, a filter system designed by the research team collected particles--including the microorganisms--from outside air entering the aircraft's sampling probes. …

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