Biogeosciences (Jan 2011)
Microbiology and atmospheric processes: research challenges concerning the impact of airborne micro-organisms on the atmosphere and climate
For the past 200 years, the field of aerobiology has explored the abundance, diversity, survival and transport of micro-organisms in the atmosphere. Micro-organisms have been explored as passive and severely stressed riders of atmospheric transport systems. Recently, an interest in the active roles of these micro-organisms has emerged along with proposals that the atmosphere is a global biome for microbial metabolic activity and perhaps even multiplication. As part of a series of papers on the sources, distribution and roles in atmospheric processes of biological particles in the atmosphere, here we describe the pertinence of questions relating to the potential roles that air-borne micro-organisms might play in meteorological phenomena. For the upcoming era of research on the role of air-borne micro-organisms in meteorological phenomena, one important challenge is to go beyond descriptions of abundance of micro-organisms in the atmosphere toward an understanding of their dynamics in terms of both biological and physico-chemical properties and of the relevant transport processes at different scales. Another challenge is to develop this understanding under contexts pertinent to their potential role in processes related to atmospheric chemistry, the formation of clouds, precipitation and radiative forcing. This will require truly interdisciplinary approaches involving collaborators from the biological and physical sciences, from disciplines as disparate as agronomy, microbial genetics and atmosphere physics, for example.