Researchers have discovered the presence of significant numbers of living microorganisms–mostly bacteria–in the middle and upper troposphere, the part of the atmosphere four to six miles above the Earth’s surface. In other words, the clouds are filled with germs! Do they fall to Earth when it rains? (NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to this incredible show).
They haven’t yet figured out whether these microorganisms routinely inhabit this portion of the atmosphere or whether they were simply lofted there from the Earth’s surface.
Environmentalist Kostas Konstantinidis says, "We did not expect to find so many microorganisms in the troposphere, which is considered a difficult environment for life. There seems to be quite a diversity of species."
The researchers, who collected samples of the bacteria from an airplane, saw strong evidence that hurricanes have a significant impact on the distribution and dynamics of microorganism populations.
If they don’t make it rain, they can certainly make it snow. Atmospheric scientist Athanasios Nenes says, "In the absence of dust or other materials (these microorganisms) could provide a good nucleus for ice formation. If they are the right size for forming ice, they could affect the clouds around them."