According to a new study, storm clouds are filled with microbial life. The research which was published on January 23rd revealed that drawn from storm clouds harbor several species of bacteria that tend to reside on plants, as well as thousands of organic compounds normally found in soil. Some of the bacterial species can seed the tiny ice crystals that lead to rain, suggesting they play a role in causing precipitation.The theory of why this could be the case is that a vast amount of air is being drawn up from surface to form clouds and that's likely how the bacteria got into the cloud. Bacteria have been known to reside in clouds over mountainous regions and have been found as high as 24.8 miles, according to previous research. Tina Santl Temkiv, an environmental chemist at Aarhus University in Denmark, and her colleagues wanted to see if bacteria lived in the violent storm clouds. So in May 2009, they collected samples of 42 hailstones that had formed in a thunderstorm over Ljubljana, Slovenia. Below is a list of what they found:
- Thousands of organic, or carbon-containing, compounds — nearly as many as found in a typical river
- Several species of bacteria that normally live on plants
- Some of the bacteria make a pinkish pigment that allows them to withstand the punishing ultraviolet rays in the atmosphere
- Some of bacteria found are ice-nucleators, meaning they can act as seeds for ice crystals
The findings suggest that bacteria could influence the weather pattern in terms of making rain or snow.
They may be growing in clouds, increasing in number and then modifying the chemistry in the cloud but also in the atmosphere indirectly, said Temkiv.
According to Pierre Amato, a researcher at France's Blaise Pascal University,
Clouds can be thought of as transient ecosystems selecting for certain [types of bacteria] that are better fitted than others, and that can thus quickly disperse over the globe.
The researchers think the bacteria come from the air hovering just above Earth that gets swept into the storm clouds through updrafts. That would suggest the atmosphere is a thread that can connect distant ecosystems, and that certain bacteria may be better at colonizing faraway environments.
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