Life in the clouds


Registered Senior Member
No policy tool will ever replace the good old hunch, and an Austrian atmospheric chemist recently had a good one while observing the composition of rainwater.

Noticing a substance produced normally by certain bacteria, the scientist rounded up a couple of limnologists (lake scientists) and the team set off for two months research 10,000 ft high in the Alps looking for life in the clouds. To everyone's surprise including their own, they found it. Working from a frequently cloud-wrapped meteorological station whose unusual characteristic is to be powered by electricity, thus avoiding any atmospheric contaminants, the team collected sample droplets from cloud cover as well as snowflakes, freezing them immediately to avoid contamination.

Results of testing showed an average of 1500 bacteria per cubic centimeter of cloud water, not very much compared to the 10,000 to 10 million found in lakes and oceans but 1500 more than anyone had previously imagined to exist in clouds. The lake specialists put it this way for their atmospheric colleagues: "clouds are an immense but shallow lake, only 50 centimeters of water deep but covering two-thirds of the globe. And this lake is inhabited".

This omnipresence would suggest an important role for cloud bacteria in the global climate system. Cloud water's pH is suitable for bacterial life, and enough organic components or pollutants to nourish a permanent population. DNA and amino acid traces found in the sample droplets confirm that bacteria reproduce in the clouds, and are not simply earthlings borne by the wind.

Many questions remain: Are the cloud bacteria a separate species or the same as found in lakes and on vegetation? What is their effect on climate? What are the details of their life cycle and activity in the clouds? Will this discovery prove helpful in answering the mystery of why there is more ozone at 6 miles of altitude than predicted by mathematical modeling?

(Le Figaro, March 9, p25, Yves Miserey)
In the clouds (where I am very often)

Have you heard or read any more regarding this matter? I would imagine that nowdays a DNA test would establish if a relatedness exists. Also, I'm kind of surprised that the researchers were surprised considering that its been know for a while now that various spores are floating arround in the higher altitudes.

Thanks for posting it.
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