sciencefriday You can blame microbes in the sky for your rainy day. Bacteria are all around us—even in the atmosphere. Under the right wind conditions, air currents sweep up ultra-light microbes, which can drift as high as the stratosphere. For instance, a 2012 study appearing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences identified over 300 different families of bacteria floating amid the clouds. As it turns out, these airborne microbes seem to influence the weather. Recently on Science Friday, we spoke with Cindy Morris, a microbial ecologist at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research in Avignon, France, and Athanasios Nenes, a professor of atmospheric sciences and chemical and biomolecular engineering at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Georgia, to understand how microbes participate in precipitation. For rain to form, millions of tiny water droplets must aggregate in clouds and become heavy enough to fall, according to Morris. And for that to happen, “in the temperate regions, you need a freezing process, where an ice crystal then will collide with droplets that are also cold, but they haven’t frozen yet. And this is how the heavy droplets can form,” said Morris. But cloud tops aren’t at temperatures conducive to freezing. So how do they produce rain? [Image credit: Greg Westfall/flickr/CC BY 2.0]
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