//
you're reading...

Atmospheric Science

Me, Myself, and I: The Solitude of Bacteria above the Southern Ocean

References: Uetake, Jun; Hill, Thomas C. J.; Moore, Kathryn A.; DeMott, Paul J.; Protat, Alain; Kreidenweis, Sonia M. (2020). Airborne bacteria confirm the pristine nature of the Southern Ocean boundary layer. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 117, 13275-13282.

“The World Fact Book: Climate”. U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 20 July 2020.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2000134117

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Picture this: shrink yourself down to the 1/1000th the size of the period at the end of this sentence. You are now the size of a bacteria. Due to your dimensions, you are so incredibly light (around 0.0000000000000000007 pounds) that the slightest wind could pick you up and move you around. It’s easy to believe that on a windy day you could be picked up and moved across town, maybe even across a couple cities! Around most of the globe, we see bacteria get swept up from the surface and pushed around incredible distances. For example, we can find bacteria from our soils hovering over the middle of an ocean! While all of that is well and good, recent research by scientists at Colorado State University have found quite the contrary for the bacteria around the Antarctic. While we would think that you (as a bacteria) could be moved from somewhere close like Australia, they found that this is untrue. Bacteria in the air (also known as airborne bacteria) above the Southern Ocean are sourced from the water, not land! So you (as a bacteria sitting above the Southern Ocean) are isolated in a pristine environment, free from any human influence. You are, quite literally, living a “me, myself, and I” lifestyle.

The story of you, a marine bacteria

What you, a bacteria, could really look like! Image Credit: Creative Commons

Living in the Southern Ocean is no easy task. Water temperatures range from 28.4-50°F, the strongest average winds found anywhere on Earth are here, notorious storms have produced waves large enough to destroy cargo ships, and the ocean can freeze over during the winter! One summer day, a wave crashes and you are shot out of the water in a geyser of sea spray into the air. The surrounding wind is strong enough to push you far away from your previous home in the water. After a few days, a boat (the MNF Investigator) passes by and collects you in a large filter. They bring you on board and look at your DNA. Your DNA is like your driving license; anyone who finds it can find out who you are and where you are from. After taking enough samples of bacteria like you in the Southern Ocean, the researchers can make their conclusions.

What did the researchers learn from you?

The researchers traveled from Australia to Antarctica and back during their sampling, which occurred between January and February. They collected bacteria and categorized them into “North,” “Middle,” and “South” based on the location of the sample. In all of their samples, the scientists found very low amounts of bacteria coming from soil (between 0-0.06%), freshwater (0-0.03%), and humans (0-0.03%). Meaning, that the vast majority of airborne bacteria above the Southern Ocean DO NOT come from places like Australia where humans live.

The researchers computed the path of airborne bacteria to each of their sampling sites. Image Credit: Uetake et. al. 2020

Furthermore, they found that between 91.8-99.9% of organisms collected were from seawater. This is incredibly surprising as the MNF Investigator passed close to Tasmania, whose airborne bacteria primarily stem from their dust. For the samples close to Tasmania, the researchers still recorded exquisitely small amounts of bacteria from dust on the island (0-0.06%).

While investigating you and your DNA, the researchers wanted to see what could explain why they found you there. Using rigorous mathematical statistics, the group found that the latitude of the location of the sample could explain why they found you and your relatives there. This means that properties like the water temperature, air temperature, and wind speed were not as powerful at explaining your location in the air as the latitude of the sample. The researchers concluded that the direction of waters moving around the Southern Ocean were the reason for this discovery.

Why does it matter?

In conclusion, the researchers stated that the direction of water moving around the Southern Ocean (otherwise known as the Antarctic circumpolar current) create the distinct conditions of the behavior of airborne bacteria like yourself. The group further articulates that the communities of airborne bacteria are pristine, totally free of human influence. These bacteria like yourself significantly affect the properties of the Southern Ocean, affecting things like clouds forming and water freezing. So while you (as a bacteria) are lonely in your solitude, you have a huge effect on the conditions of Antarctica. Every coin has two sides, right?

 

 

Discussion

No comments yet.

Post a Comment

Instagram

  • by oceanbites 4 days ago
    Being on a research cruise is a unique experience with the open water, 12-hour working shifts, and close quarters, but there are some familiar practices too. Here Diana is filtering seawater to gather chlorophyll for analysis, the same process on
  • by oceanbites 1 month ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #oceanbites  we are featuring Hannah Collins  @hannahh_irene  Hannah works with marine suspension feeding bivalves and microplastics, investigating whether ingesting microplastics causes changes to the gut microbial community or gut tissues. She hopes to keep working
  • by oceanbites 2 months ago
    Leveling up - did you know that crabs have a larval phase? These are both porcelain crabs, but the one on the right is the earlier stage. It’s massive spine makes it both difficult to eat and quite conspicuous in
  • by oceanbites 2 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Cierra Braga. Cierra works ultraviolet c (UVC) to discover how this light can be used to combat biofouling, or the growth of living things, on the hulls of ships. Here, you
  • by oceanbites 2 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Elena Gadoutsis  @haysailor  These photos feature her “favorite marine research so far: From surveying tropical coral reefs, photographing dolphins and whales, and growing my own algae to expose it to different
  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on Oceanbites we are featuring Eliza Oldach. According to Ellie, “I study coastal communities, and try to understand the policies and decisions and interactions and adaptations that communities use to navigate an ever-changing world. Most of
  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Jiwoon Park with a little photographic help from Ryan Tabata at the University of Hawaii. When asked about her research, Jiwoon wrote “Just like we need vitamins and minerals to stay
  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring  @riley_henning  According to Riley, ”I am interested in studying small things that make a big impact in the ocean. Right now for my master's research at the University of San Diego,
  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Gabby Stedman. Gabby is interested in interested in understanding how many species of small-bodied animals there are in the deep-sea and where they live so we can better protect them from
  • by oceanbites 4 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Shawn Wang! Shawn is “an oceanographer that studies ocean conditions of the past. I use everything from microfossils to complex computer models to understand how climate has changed in the past
  • by oceanbites 4 months ago
    Today we are highlighting some of our awesome new authors for  #WriterWednesday  Today we have Daniel Speer! He says, “I am driven to investigate the interface of biology, chemistry, and physics, asking questions about how organisms or biological systems respond
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    Here at Oceanbites we love long-term datasets. So much happens in the ocean that sometimes it can be hard to tell if a trend is a part of a natural cycle or actually an anomaly, but as we gather more
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    Have you ever seen a lobster molt? Because lobsters have exoskeletons, every time they grow they have to climb out of their old shell, leaving them soft and vulnerable for a few days until their new shell hardens. Young, small
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    A lot of zooplankton are translucent, making it much easier to hide from predators. This juvenile mantis shrimp was almost impossible to spot floating in the water, but under a dissecting scope it’s features really come into view. See the
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    This is a clump of Dead Man’s Fingers, scientific name Codium fragile. It’s native to the Pacific Ocean and is invasive where I found it on the east coast of the US. It’s a bit velvety, and the coolest thing
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    You’ve probably heard of jellyfish, but have you heard of salps? These gelatinous sea creatures band together to form long chains, but they can also fall apart and will wash up onshore like tiny gemstones that squish. Have you seen
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    Check out what’s happening on a cool summer research cruise! On the  #neslter  summer transect cruise, we deployed a tow sled called the In Situ Icthyoplankton Imaging System. This can take pictures of gelatinous zooplankton (like jellyfish) that would be
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    Did you know horseshoe crabs have more than just two eyes? In these juveniles you can see another set in the middle of the shell. Check out our website to learn about some awesome horseshoe crab research.  #oceanbites   #plankton   #horseshoecrabs 
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    Feeling a bit flattened by the week? So are these summer flounder larvae. Fun fact: flounder larvae start out with their eyes set like normal fish, but as they grow one of their eyes migrates to meet the other and
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    Have you seen a remote working setup like this? This is a photo from one of our Oceanbites team members Anne Hartwell. “A view from inside the control can of an underwater robot we used to explore the deep parts
WP2Social Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com