Study: A barrage of viruses and bacteria is falling from the sky

New research may explain why genetically identical viruses are often found in very different environments around the globe.

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, that layer of atmosphere 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 virus 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 sea spray.

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)

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.

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)

“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 viruses tend to hitch rides on smaller, lighter, organic particles suspended in air and gas, meaning they can stay aloft in the atmosphere longer.


88 thoughts on “Study: A barrage of viruses and bacteria is falling from the sky

    • This one is a hypochondriac’s nightmare Rbabcock. The agoraphobic population will soon be elevated by orders of magnitude.

  1. Sigh. Common sense.
    Of course, now, the common idiocy of the MSM is likely to make a very big deal of this. When the only viral species that manage to transport this way and survive are the rather small proportion that are both oxygen resistant and UV tolerant. Of which only a few are even able to infect humans. Which doesn’t even seem to happen (I am not aware of any “patient zero” being found with a disease prevalent in a foreign county – that had not recently visited said country).

    • I was thinking the same thing. It says nothing about viability and what type of viruses they found, that was my very first question.

      • Anytime flu virus strains are in the “wild” similar to the Spanish Flu, (Type “A” especially N1) the epidemiologists worry. The Spanish Flu didn’t start off as a killer flu. It went overseas with US troops as a rather mild flu and when it came back it was deadly, the flu itself killed. It would kill people in a matter of days. I spent a couple of weeks per year with some of the top virologists in the world discussing arthropod vectored viruses. None of them were into hyperbole, none of them believed CAGW was going to make arthrovectored diseases worse, in fact were very careful how they spoke about viruses. We lunched and dinner together most nights. While our concerns were for dengue, yellow fever, Chik, Zika and the like, the viruses that scared the hell out of them were influenza. Few people appreciate how fast it killed, what demographic it killed and how easily it can return. You literally could start feeling ill at work, leave for home and die soon after. Our family had a close friend who had been a nurse in NY City during the Spanish Flu taking care of patients. She never got the flu.

  2. Do people seriously get paid for research that reveals what most thinking people held as ‘common knowledge’?

    • The first clue I had was a newspaper article, published in the 1960s, about fecal material in the atmosphere. It hadn’t occurred to me that it could travel around the world. After all, air pollution would affect land downwind of the source for maybe a hundred miles or so.
      I think the new information in this paper is that dna can be used to prove that an airborne virus or bacterium arriving in one continent had originated in another.

      • “…about fecal material in the atmosphere. It hadn’t occurred to me that it could travel around the world.”
        Surely you’ve heard of “the sh*t heard round the world?”

      • “…a newspaper article, published in the 1960s, about fecal material in the atmosphere. It hadn’t occurred to me that it could travel around the world….”
        Is it true that toilets on airplanes flush directly into the atmosphere?
        If so, might that not partially explain both the study quoted and your comment? Imagine how many virusses & bacteria could be circulated worldwide by thousands of flights per day, let alone year.

  3. So why aren’t viruses being contracted simultaneously around the globe instead of the well documented introduction paths with people movement? Another theory without evidence.

    • Not a theory. A fact, ie a scientific observation.
      The vast majority of viruses and bacteria are not human pathogens, ie don’t produce harmful infections in people.

    • So why aren’t viruses being contracted simultaneously around the globe …

      I suspect it has to do with concentration. link

      • Moderately Cross,
        I suspect it is a stupidity gene, and, there appears to be numerous mutations of it. Due to its prevalence I might conjecture that it is also dominant.

      • Rocket
        I don’t think it is a gene. It is obviously contagious. There has to be some other transmission vector. I have always thought the “Bad Idea” was one possiblity.

  4. I suppose this is just the press release:
    “…the free troposphere, that layer of atmosphere beyond Earth’s weather systems but below the stratosphere where jet airplanes fly”
    So, let’s see. According to my copy of the freshman textbook “Meteorology Today” by Donald Ahrens (6th edition, 1999) the troposphere extends upwards from the Earth’s surface and contains most (or all) of Earth’s weather systems. I wonder where they got their definition of “troposphere”?
    Also, in the same paragraph ot this textbook which defines the tropopause is this: “Here, it is common for air molecules to circulate through a depth of more than 10km in just a few days.” This was known in 1999 and probably well before that. Finding that viruses are also carried along for the ride should be no big surprise…or did I miss something (entirely possible)?

    • They are talking about the “free troposphere” which is the upper part of the troposphere, above the “boundary layer”. The free troposphere is “free” from most of the direct effects from the surface, like turbulence, thermals, and so on. The elevation of the boundary layer to free troposphere interface is not fixed but varies over time (usually lower at night) and tends to follow surface topography and of course it bulges upwards over rising cumulus clouds.
      Within the “boundary layer” as defined this way, there is a “surface layer” which is what I’ve seen described as “boundary layer” in some posts on WUWT, so there’s confusion in terminology.
      That’s from a couple of minutes on the net looking for free troposphere.
      But they measured their viruses and bacteria on a mountain. By definition, they were in the boundary layer. OK, there’s no doubt a lot of mixing between the two layers over mountains, and no doubt the boundary layer is quite thin. But still. Makes you wonder. Perhaps they explain in the full text.

    • Exactly the thought that came to my mind. I read that book as a kid. Fascinated by Hoyle – ice age soon anyone?

  5. Most viruses infect bacteria not eukaryotes. They are called bacteriophages, and you can find 1e13 of them per milliliter of seawater.

  6. Back before the industrial revolution, European colonization of North America brought foreign diseases that decimated Native Americans.
    Now, they’re spread all over the globe via dust and air without need for human transmission.
    Global warming/climate change is probably to blame.

    • You’re kidding, right?
      Viruses and bacteria have been spread by the atmosphere for as long as there have been microbes, ie about four billion years.

    • My thought was that the decimation of Native Americans must have been due to bacteria, not viruses, as the viruses wouldn’t have been so alien to them.

        • jorgekafkazar

          In case you’ve forgotten, the British gave Indians blankets that had been used by smallpox victims, knowing what the result would be. Bacteriological warfare, 1763:

          A story many (thousand) times repeated, but that was only part of a “recommendation” letter from Lord Amherst. There is little evidence it was carried out elsewhere.
          See Pox Americana , by Elizabeth A Fenn for the actual details of that episode (she does not refute it!), but also tracks of smallpox across ALL of North America and Central America north to the Hudson Bay during that era. (The English army was infected with the smallpox, but was least degraded by the disease of all armies and groups fighting across the continent.) Smallpox killed many tens of thousands of innocents, but many English, Spanish, native-born Americans and just-immigrated Americans as well. I wish the first vaccines worked, but they were very crude and very painful.

      • jorgekafkazar – True. But later they did this in western Canada where indigenous people where their essential partners in the fur trade.
        “Averting disaster: the Hudson’s Bay Company and smallpox in western Canada during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
        Hackett P.
        During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the Hudson’s Bay Company served as a de facto public health agency across western Canada. Among its biggest challenges was combating the smallpox epidemics that periodically threatened the Aboriginal people of the region. Initially, the Company’s employees turned to quarantine over variolation in order to prevent the spread of the disease to Hudson Bay in the summer of 1782. Although well thought-out, ultimately this policy proved unsuccessful. Within thirty years the HBC had turned to the newly discovered vaccination, a strategy that was to prove far more effective in fighting the disease. By the late 1830s the Company was able to mount an effective vaccination campaign that covered much of western Canada.”

      • For doubters, here’s a section of the linked article, which they apparently did not take the trouble to actually read:
        “As to whether the plans actually were carried out, Parkman has this to say:
        ‘ … in the following spring, Gershom Hicks, who had been among the Indians, reported at Fort Pitt that the small-pox had been raging for some time among them….’
        “An additional source of information on the matter is the Journal of William Trent, commander of the local militia of the townspeople of Pittsburgh during Pontiac’s seige of the fort. This Journal has been described as “… the most detailed contemporary account of the anxious days and nights in the beleaguered stronghold.” [Pen Pictures of Early Western Pennsylvania, John W. Harpster, ed. (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1938).]
        “Trent’s entry for May 24, 1763, includes the following statement:
        ‘ … we gave them two Blankets and an Handkerchief out of the Small Pox Hospital. I hope it will have the desired effect.’
        “Trent’s Journal confirms that smallpox had broken out in Fort Pitt prior to the correspondence between Bouquet and Amherst, thus making their plans feasible. It also indicates that intentional infection of the Indians with smallpox had been already approved by at least Captain Ecuyer at the fort, who some commentators have suggested was in direct correspondence with General Amherst on this tactic (though I have not yet found such letters).”

  7. Ignore the facts, that most of these viruses have no effect on us,that sand from deserts enriches the oceans and that this is not new information as far as I can see in the intro.
    Let us leap to immediately mass panic,hysterically we shall sanitize all regions up wind of our neighbourhoods.
    I suspect this factoid will soon show up in the Democrats Environmental spiel and the anti-human crew will insist that “man made” plagues will spread world wide…dooming us all.
    See;”This is why vaccines do not work”
    Sarc off.

  8. “We have the immune system we have not “in spite of,” but “because of” we live in a cesspool of filth and viruses. It is how we evolved as Homo sapiens with other animals and nature. In the constant presence of filth and disease. Lesson: get a dog or cat. Live on farm-ranch at some point during your life and re-visit regularly.”
    – (me) Joel O’Bryan, PhD in Immunology-Virology.
    People who try to live their life in germ-free environments do not do their immune systems any favors, anymore than the guy avoiding the gym who thinks he’s is doing his muscles and metabolism a favor by avoiding a good workout.

    • I know from experience that continuous exposures build up immunity. I worked at a university in facility management – utilities dept. I was often in the dirtiest places in the buildings, changing air filters, investigating clogged or vandalized sewers (lit M-80 flushed once, usually stolen wallets, purses), repairing exhaust fans and air handlers, and oh, can’t forget those clogged condensate drains that overflowed snot all over the unit.
      I was almost never sick and had enough sick leave accrued to retire months early.
      Now, after 6 years of retired farm living, seems like every time I go visit the place and shake everybody’s hand I catch a cold. Guess I need to get out more.

      • Now that you mention it MarkW, as a minister, my father visited hospitalized and home-bound parishioners on almost a daily basis. Often several nursing homes in one day.
        My siblings and I were all recipients of perfect attendance awards most of our school years and I never missed a day of high school. (Not counting the day I got sent home because Formalin fumes made my nose bleed while dissecting a fetal pig.)
        I never saw the connection until you wrote that.

      • My wife is a Pediatric Physical Therapist. All day long she treats infectious snot drooling children. She is almost never sick, while the rest of the family is continually sniffling and coughing from one virus to the next.
        She is a carrier!

      • Children who have close contact with farm animals hardly ever have /get/experience asthma.

    • As a physician fried of mine who specialized in allergies used to say: “a little clean dirt never hurt anybody”

    • Living in a germ-free environment eventually killed off the Martians (see last chapter of “War of the Worlds”)

    • Meanwhile the modern mind has been deceived to think that vaccines provide immunity. Think about that and what a vaccine is before you answer.

  9. Makes you wonder then why imperialist Europeans were able to kill off half the global population just by showing up in the new world, Oz, and Oceania with diseases unseen by the hapless indigenous populations.

    • Smallpox isn’t an airborne disease and that was the primary killer in North America at least.

      • Extreme:
        Dead wrong. Smallpox is a highly contagious airborne virus between and infected individual and immeidate contacts from the nasal and throat discharges of the infected. Yes the pox lesions were also a source of huge amounts of virus particles that also infected blankets and clothing. But as an enveloped virus, it has limited viability when exposed to light (UV) and dry air (dessication).

      • Thanks joelobryan. I should have taken a bit longer on that post. My point was that it was not transmittable over long distances by air, let alone falling from the sky.
        As I understand it, it is only transmissible through the air via droplets – e.g. sneezes etc – and thus for only very short distances. One of several books I have which states that is:
        Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82, by E.A. Fenn, 2001

      • Smallpox wasn’t the primary killer in North America. The smallpox epidemic of 1519-1520 is calculated to have killed between 5-8 million people in North America. Salmonella enterica Paratyphi C has been recently identified as the likely cause of the 1545-1576 epidemics known as “cocoliztli” (plague in Nahuatl language) that killed between 7-17 million people. Both diseases plus some more eliminated 90% of the population (from 22 million to 2 million) during the 16th century. Such population catastrophe (about 3 times worse than the black plague) cannot really be understood by us.
        Salmonella enterica has a climate twist. It is transmitted through fecal matter, usually by contaminated water. According to tree rings, during the mid-16th century the worst drought in five centuries affected North America, probably restricting water availability and contributing to a better transmission.

      • Thanks javier. Very interesting. Do you know if that Salmonella also played a part in the epidemics in the rest of North (and South) America?

    • many human pathogenic viruses are “enveloped.” That is their outer covering ia a lipid bilayer membrane taken from the host cell at budding.
      The lipid bilayer is both an advantage and a disadvantage to infecting a new cell. Disadvantage: fragile, easily disrupted in exposed to ling to air, UV. Advantage: aids in fusion withnew cell to avoid immune detection.
      Many if not all viruses that can last for weeks or longer in the environment are non-enveloped viruses. They have protein capsid outer shell that protects their internal nucleic acid payload. HepA viruses, rotaviruses, Norwalk-like viruses, polio virus, papilloma virus (warts) are non-enveloped.
      SanDiego has had adifficult time eliminating HepA due to homeless bringing high levels of this virus onto streets sidewalks.
      Cruise lines are perenially battling Rotoviruses and Norwalk-like viruses – non-enveloped intestinal viruses. Very persisent, but largely non-lethal to healthy immune ststems.

    • From what I have read, the resistance of individual native Americans wasn’t that much different from the Europeans, what made the biggest difference was a so called cultural immunity.
      Basically, small pox having hit European populations many times previously, there was always a sizeable fraction of the population who had been infected previously and survived.
      As a result these now immune individuals were available to take care of those who got infected this time around, resulting in much higher survival rates.
      When native populations got hit, everybody got sick and there was no one available to care for them.

      • And when syphilis first arrived, it was a febrile, fatal disease to which no one had much resistance. It arrived at Castel Gandolfo with returning mariners, at a time the brothels (and indulgences) had been set up to pay for St Peter’s Basilica. From those brothels, it spread to the indentured stone masons from all over Europe, who carried it throughout the continent after they completed their 2 years of service. There was a massive epidemic.
        The one-time head of the Scandinavian HIV/AIDS control office told me he thought it was significant that a big AIDS conference was hosted in that same castle.

  10. Already had my flu shot. I went and checked outside, because it’s just about sleepy time. Nope, still not snowing and still no bird flu or swine flu or chimney flues, so I’m going to settle in for a nice winter’s nap.
    If you don’t expose yourself to outside stuff like these microorganisms,you’re more likely to get sick than I am.

  11. Nothing was said about viroids, which are smaller than viruses and mainly infect plants – except for the hepatitis D pathogen which is similar to a viroid (circular, single strand of RNA without a protein coat).

  12. OMG! It’s the RUSSIANS!
    This proves it – we need to declare war on someone……
    Alternatively, why not use our technology to try to clean these nasty viruses out of the air? I’m thinking about some form of big scoop which we could pass through the air, with a fan in front of it to suck the air in. Then we could pass this air into a combustion chamber and heat-treat it to kill all the viruses, and eject the burnt remains out the back, which would tend to push it along.
    We could string two or four of these in parallel on a metal bar… hey, we could even add a little cabin for people to ride in and get served drinks by pretty girls….

    • Actually, that’s the system we are using to eradicate the airborne viruses – see the post 3 items above….

  13. Yikes. I propose that airplanes each take 1,000+ gallons of hand sanizer and spray them into the atmosphere on each trip they take. Think of the jobs created! And we get a sanitized atmosphere. Win-win!
    Together, we can solve the world pathogen crisis.

  14. The colour in the photo used for this article is the same colour as the icicles right now. I have never seen this happen before.

  15. I am not sure that qualifies as a climate scare story but here is one that does. World’s Largest Mercury Reserve Found Underneath Arctic Permafrost, And Climate Change Will Release It All. A headline from Tech Times describing this study. A little ridiculous since all the boreholes seem to be in historical gold mining areas. What is the connection between mercury and gold mining? Anyone?

    • Refined native mercury is used in actual gold recovery methods of production at developed mines and mercury sulfides are often found associated naturally with gold occurrences at prospects and mining areas depending on the type of gold deposit. Mercury sulfides are more stable than native mercury for the environment but then arsenides that may also be there are not stable. see the type locality for such environmental studies at Getchell Mine, NV.

      • So, do you think the mercury found in the boreholes are there as a result of mining? I don’t think those prospectors of old were very conscious of environmental considerations.

      • You seem to miss my point completely. I never suggested the boreholes were mining. I suggested that elevated mercury is probably the result of pollution from old placer mining in the area

    • Mercury compounds were once used for treating a common social disease. Looking for mercury in the soil was one way used to track the Lewis & Clark Expedition, which left a trail of mercury behind it, so to speak.

  16. The other side of this coin is that the massive production of antibiotics for use in human medicine and livestock feed has created a situation where antibiotics are now widely spread around the world throughout the ecosystem. Their impact, if any, is not known. But, consider that it has recently been discovered that bacteria can play a role in nucleating precipitation of water vapor, and can affect the temperature at which the atmospheric water freezes. Could this be influencing a change in weather? I’m sure that the IPCC is looking into it! sarc/

  17. So this explains the globalist movement–it’s an infection falling from the sky as in the movie remake starring Donald Sutherland.

  18. Up next….
    Remarkably if you do not get infections, especially when young, your immune system fail to function correctly.
    “If it don’t kill ya, it makes ya stronger” said one ‘researcher’….

  19. An astonishing number of viruses are circulating around the Earth’s atmosphere – and falling from it
    Sounds like a headline that some little brother would think up to torment his grown up germ-scaredy big sister. Little brothers can be mean.

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