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Cloud Microbes

March 26, 2008

Living cells may be largely responsible for cloud formation.


The living heart of a cloud. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Much of the world’s rain and snowfall may be dependent on bacteria. This according to Louisiana State University microbiologist Brent Christner and his colleagues. Christner explains that all snow and most rain starts in the frigid upper atmosphere, where ice crystals coalesce around particles in the air, including dust and soot. But looking at snow samples from Montana, France, and Antarctica, they determined that the vast majority of these particles are actually living cells — primarily bacteria.

BRENT CHRISTNER (Louisiana State University):
It’s been known for a long time that there are biological particles which have this activity, but their distribution in the atmosphere has not been documented.

His team’s findings suggest that scientists should take a closer look at role of microbes in order to better understand rainfall patterns around the world. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.