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Storm Cloud Life

February 11, 2013

A world of bacterial life inhabits storm clouds high in the atmosphere.



Living the high life. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Bacteria can thrive in storm clouds, and travel thousands of miles on air currents. This according to microbial ecologist Tina Santl-Temkiv of Aarhus University in Denmark. She and her team collected hailstones that fell to the ground during storms. Inside the hail, they discovered a number of different bacterial species that normally live on plants. They also detected over 3000 chemical compounds. Some of these supply nutrients to the bacteria, which allow them to grow and reproduce high in the atmosphere.

TINA SANTL-TEMKIV (Aarhus University):

By growing in cloud droplets, they can influence the chemical composition of the cloud water, and also of the atmosphere. And they may also have some influence on climatic processes.


The storm clouds, in turn, influence the evolution of the bacteria, since only certain hardy types can survive the atmospheric stress. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Hailstones harbor a variety of microbial life. (Bdahl/Wikipedia)