Part 1. It’s been widely understood by meteorologist that rain drops, hail stones, snowflakes and all forms of precipitation require some particle to serve as a nucleus on which moisture can condense. The long standing belief was that these particles were microscopic dust, dirt and such. Some new research from Montana State University is revealing that there’s a biological rather than geological source to our weather.
The new research shows that for water to condense on dust or dirt and form ice crystals, the water needs to be much colder than the temperatures found in clouds. In analyzing hailstones from a Montana hailstorm in June 2010, researchers found an abundance of bacteria at the cores of the stones, leading them to conclude that bacteria was serving as the nucleus rather than mineral sources.
In fact, microbiologists have determined that clouds are filled with bacteria, fungi, diatoms, and algae that can serve as nuclei for the formation of precipitation. One well studied bacteria, pseudomonas syringae is known for its ability to bind water molecules. P. syringae is a plant pathogen that causes frost damage which then enables the bacteria to invade the plant cell. In the atmosphere, P. syringae is found in ice crystals and snowflakes across the globe, including Antartica which is void of plant life, verifying its abundance in the atmosphere.
Part 2. Last year’s Soccer World Cup brought the vuvuzela to the world’s consciousness as a superior noise maker for sporting fans. Recently, organizers of the 2012 Olympic Games in London England announced that they are considering banning the vuvuzela from the games, not just because of their loud noise, but also because of their ability to spread airborne virus and bacteria.
Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that just as with a cough or sneeze, blowing through a vuvuzela produced similar airborne projectiles. Using a laser measuring device, researchers found that on average 658,000 lung particles per liter of air were expelled from the horn at a rate of 4 million per second. By comparison, only 3,700 particles were expelled per liter of air while shouting, at a rate of only 7,000 per second.
Critics of the proposed ban are calling for better vuvuzela etiquette rather than restricting the horns entirely. Perhaps, just as with a cough or sneeze, we should expect people to cover their vuvuzela before blowing. Either way, with all of the vuvuzela blowing during last year’s World Cup, you’d expect a lot of airborne particles floating around the atmosphere.
Part 3. So with all of those airborne particulates of bacteria and other stuff from the lungs of the soccer fans in South Africa last summer, and given the increased ability of certain bacteria to be better nuclei for rain, snow and hail, it would stand to reason that Cape Town experienced some whoppers of a thunderstorm during the soccer tournament. That’s a study that I’d like to see the results of!
But for now, please aim your vuvuzela into your sleeve the next time you blow. Thank you.