Friday, 8 February 2013

Cloud Atlas - Clouds are alive with life

Clouds are alive with life - New scientific research shows

Joseph Dodds


Clouds - A Poem of Life, Kosho Uchiyama

suddenly appear out of the whole universe
and disappear into the whole universe.
Floating absentminded with a smile,
some flow peacefully and quietly.
Others evolve violently and laugh darkly,
inviting thunder and roar.
Spring clouds moisten the earth.
Monsoon clouds sweep with long rain.
Snow clouds remorse in winters deep silence.
Typhoons filled with hatred run wild.

Clouds swirl and storms blow
as if trying to kill all beings
and sometimes,
the clouds all disappear,
leaving only the deep blue sky
that presents no obstacles.

suddenly appear out of the whole universe
and disappear into the whole universe.
These clouds,
the original form of all living beings.
The whole universe is nothing
but life

- Kosho Uchiyama, The Zen Teaching of “Homeless” Kodo

New research shows that bacteria reach miles into the atmosphere, supporting the notion that microbes affect precipitation and cloud formation (Bacteria Are Blowing in the Wind, Richards 2013).  Every cubic metre of air holds up to 100 million micro-organisms. "Microbes also help create the intricately beautiful designs in snowflakes and facilitate the formation of clouds, for example. Studying them, researchers say, could give insight into how to better monitor global climate change, as well as predict and track weather cycles and disease and allergen outbreaks" (Atlas of the Atmosphere,
contributes significantly to the hypothesis that the atmosphere is alive... The possibility of microbes being metabolically active in the atmosphere transforms our understanding of global processes.”

Atmospheric micro-organisms have now been shown to have roles in cloud formation, precipitation, ice crystallization, as vectors for disease and carbon and nitrogen cycles, all or which have potentially important complex interactions with global climate change. Hurricanes have significant effects on these communities, with storms whipping up new bacteria from the earths surface. It is intriguing to also consider the possibility that through their influence on cloud formation and precipitation, they might also play some role in the formation of hurricanes themselves (not only a butterfly flapping its wings, a microbe nucleating a cloud). Micro-organisms are also released into the air by popping bubbles of crashing ocean waves. 

Such research reveals the need for scientists to look beyond their narrow specialisations, as Anne-Marie Delort, professor of microbiology and organic chemistry at Université Blaise Pascal in Franceas, says: "Physicists don't think about the possibility of life in the air. They study the particles, but ignore the biology", while aerobiologists often ignore important physical and chemical characteristics microbes, according to Jordan Peccia, an environmental engineer at Yale.

Increasingly, the atmosphere is seen not only as a means of transporting micro-organisms by wind, but as a habit and ecosystem in its own right. Microbes can find here suitable temperatures, pH levels, and rich sources of organic carbon, and can sustain populations in the air for 50 generations, or up to 200 days, living and dying on the wind, and riding in, and also making, clouds.


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