Viruses—lots of them—are falling from the sky

Viruses—lots of them—are falling from the sky
Viruses and bacteria fall back to Earth via dust storms and precipitation. Saharan dust intrusions from North Africa and rains from the Atlantic. Credit: NASA Visible Earth

An astonishing number of viruses are circulating around the Earth's atmosphere – and falling from it – according to new research from scientists in Canada, Spain and the U.S.

The study marks the first time scientists have quantified the viruses being swept up from the Earth's surface into the free troposphere, beyond Earth's weather systems but below the stratosphere where jet airplanes fly. The viruses can be carried thousands of kilometres there before being deposited back onto the Earth's surface.

"Every day, more than 800 million viruses are deposited per square metre above the planetary boundary layer—that's 25 viruses for each person in Canada," said University of British Columbia virologist Curtis Suttle, one of the senior authors of a paper in the International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal that outlines the findings.

"Roughly 20 years ago we began finding genetically similar viruses occurring in very different environments around the globe," says Suttle. "This preponderance of long-residence viruses travelling the atmosphere likely explains why—it's quite conceivable to have a swept up into the atmosphere on one continent and deposited on another."

Bacteria and viruses are swept up in the atmosphere in small particles from soil-dust and .

Viruses—lots of them—are falling from the sky
New research may explain why genetically identical viruses are often found in very different environments around the globe. Credit: Curtis Suttle, University of British Columbia

Suttle and colleagues at the University of Granada and San Diego State University wanted to know how much of that material is carried up above the atmospheric boundary layer above 2,500 to 3,000 metres. At that altitude, particles are subject to long-range transport unlike particles lower in the atmosphere.

Using platform sites high in Spain's Sierra Nevada Mountains, the researchers found billions of viruses and tens of millions of bacteria are being deposited per square metre per day. The deposition rates for viruses were nine to 461 times greater than the rates for bacteria.

"Bacteria and viruses are typically deposited back to Earth via rain events and Saharan dust intrusions. However, the rain was less efficient removing viruses from the atmosphere," said author and microbial ecologist Isabel Reche from the University of Granada.

The researchers also found the majority of the viruses carried signatures indicating they had been swept up into the air from sea spray. The tend to hitch rides on smaller, lighter, organic particles suspended in air and gas, meaning they can stay aloft in the longer.


Explore further

Viruses are everywhere, maybe even in space

More information: Isabel Reche et al. Deposition rates of viruses and bacteria above the atmospheric boundary layer, The ISME Journal (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41396-017-0042-4
Journal information: ISME Journal

Citation: Viruses—lots of them—are falling from the sky (2018, February 6) retrieved 19 June 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2018-02-viruseslots-themare-falling-sky.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
745 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

KBK
Feb 06, 2018
Let's talk about Fukushima. And viruses.

Feb 06, 2018
Franken-ruses

Feb 06, 2018
Gotta love chemtrails... Oh, right, I mean geo-engineering "clouds". Viruses, toxic metals, pharmaceuticals/poisons, there is no shortage of harmful materials being used for human crop-dusting.

Feb 06, 2018
Those aren't chemtrails they are signatures of electromagnetic plasma discharge generated from friction in the atmosphere combined with fieldline disruption of the magnetosphere.

See bubble chambers.

I thought you knew this.

Feb 06, 2018
@otto

epic!

Feb 06, 2018
I'm surprised anyone is surprised by this.

Feb 06, 2018
According to Hoyle and Wickramasinghe

The viruses more likely originated on the Earth and were lifted into the atmosphere by the wind and the Earth's electric field, however the solar phenomena may create the conditions where the pathogens are more virulent via those electromagnetic effects.

https://www.omics...O-Pv0hcb

Feb 07, 2018
For the conspiracy minded, the two key points in this article:
1) Scientists began finding genetically similar viruses in widely separated regions 20 years ago;
2) The viruses are found below the altitude where jets commonly cruise.
Wow. I remember seeing the first of the new "contrails" 20 years ago while driving near Pensacola, Fl.

Deniers, please do this: Next time you have a clear blue sky, and the jets are at work, watch their contrails (hopefully you are old enough to remember how exhaust-ice plumes behaved prior to the '90s). Today's contrails spread out rather than sublimate. If you have as few as a half-dozen jets laying tic-tac-toe trails at noon, by 1PM the blue sky will be partly obscured by a spreading off-white haze. These things don't sublimate; they are not made of ice.

Feb 07, 2018
If I understand the crank conspiracy comments. They are accusing aircraft flight crews of deliberately spreading bipweapon grade viruses around the world?

A few billion years of viral adaptation taking advantage of the Earth's atmosphere as a transport for propagation. Is just too complicated for the dullards to comprehend?

Well, if there is a conspiracy? I would urge each of you cranky old farts to go to your nearest airfield. To personally thank the airmen and their support crews for being so conscientious at spreading the tiny little buggers!

Cause (do try to wrap your tiny intellects around it) by spreading viruses serves all of us. Yes, yes it does! We do not want to commit the error of the Mesoamericans, isolated from diseases and having no immunity when exposed to them by invading European savages.

This conspiracy therefore is protecting the greater number of people from potential pandemics!

I fell into the manure pile of crankery and found me a pony!

Feb 09, 2018
Most aircraft flight does take place in the Troposphere, and yes, so too does most of our weather.

Feb 09, 2018
Okay mack, I'm already regreting asking but I'll fall for your crankery.

What evidence are you proposing that definitely links Solar activity with Influenza outbreaks?

First of my evidence against your opinion... https://medicalxp...flu.html

That exposure to unfiltered ultra-violet radiation such as the Sun produces. Is lethal for viral organisms.

Second, a timeline matching outbreaks of Influenza against any sort of Solar Cycle is inherently indefinite and uncertain.

You are claiming that Flu, mutated by exposure to Solar radiation is to be expected.

But the correct question would be? How many years, decades even, before the viruses settle down past miles of atmosphere to reach the human population?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more