Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Bugs in the Snow

For a number of years, quite a bit of research has gone into "Global Dimming." Most everyone has heard of Global Warming, but until late, Global Dimming has been obscure. Basically, the dimming occurs from particles in the atmosphere - think smog, pollution, and natural elements. The higher the concentration of "stuff" floating around in the air, the more light is reflected away, and the lower the temperature falls. Some researches have even suspected the contrails of jets were adding to the overall dimming of the planet.

This begs the question: what about Global Warming? The answer offered is that they two have been working (unintentionally) together. And without Global Dimming cooling the planet, Global Warming would increase dramatically. To work with a metaphor, one could say that the planet is addicted to pollution, and quick withdraw will cause other problems.

But I'm not here to discuss Global Warming or Dimming. It just so happens that the stuff floating around in the air isn't all unnatural pollution. To create water droplets in the atmosphere, the moisture needs to bond with some type of particle. Basically, the moisture attaches to something floating in the air, gathers more moisture, and becomes a raindrop. That heavy drop of water falls to the ground. So, increased Global Dimming adds to the amount of rain in some areas, and seems to limit it (drought) in other areas. And when scientists started peeking at snowflakes, they not only found the usual dust and soot and minerals along with man-made pollutants, they spotted bacteria.

Actually, it seems that the majority of the nucleators (stuff inside the snowflake or raindrop) is bacteria. The type recently found is Pseudomonas syringae, a critter that causes disease in several types of plants. Another factors that appears to be related is that dry areas might increase the amount of bacteria concentrated in the atmosphere. So imagine a region where a drought has killed off the planets, and some of these plants have the aforementioned bacteria, and now that bacteria moves to the area, causing rain in another region. The end result is both good and bad for a plant. And the cycle might repeat.

Take all of the above, but mix in a bacteria that affects humans. "Rain of the Dead"? Thunderstorm plagues? Don't worry, none of this has happened. It's just an idea - frightful - but only a notion.

Either way, this makes catching snowflakes on the tongue less appealing perhaps.


Charles Gramlich said...

Yes, or making snow ice cream like we used to make when I was a kid.

Bacteria ice cream anyone?

This reminds me a bit of the start of Invasion of the Body Snatchers with the rain bringing down the spores.

Steve Buchheit said...

Slightly like Matheson's original "I Am Legend" where the sandstorms carry the insects that transmit the disease. Although we've just noticed this, it's been going on since snow first fell. Most bacteria don't affect us. Although it would make for an interesting weaponized bacteria vector. Kind of a different take on Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains."

There's also a theory about having life seeded through comets or asteroids (the the original DNA strands were developed elsewhere in the universe, and like got it's start on Earth through extremophile bacteria or prion transmission from an extraterrestrial object.

William Jones said...

Charles - It has the fiction "bug" in it, no doubt. In fact, a decade or so ago, it would probably have thought to be more fancy than fact. But then, cloning was once thought to be SF.

Steve - You're right. It has always been here, we've just not known it. It does "plug and play" with many SF ideas, and many theories. I can see extinction theories premised on this. And of course, biological warfare seems natural.