Original Paper


, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 35-46

First online:

Stratospheric microbiology at 20 km over the Pacific Ocean

  • David J. SmithAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of Washington Email author 
  • , Dale W. GriffinAffiliated withUnited States Geological Survey, Florida Integrated Science Center
  • , Andrew C. SchuergerAffiliated withDepartment of Plant Pathology, Space Life Sciences Laboratory, University of Florida

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An aerobiology sampling flight at 20 km was conducted on 28 April 2008 over the Pacific Ocean (36.5° N, 118–149° W), a period of time that coincided with the movement of Asian dust across the ocean. The aim of this study was to confirm the presence of viable bacteria and fungi within a transoceanic, atmospheric bridge and to improve the resolution of flight hardware processing techniques. Isolates of the microbial strains recovered were analyzed with ribosomal ribonucleic acid (rRNA) sequencing to identify bacterial species Bacillus sp., Bacillus subtilis, Bacillus endophyticus, and the fungal genus Penicillium. Satellite imagery and ground-based radiosonde observations were used to measure dust movement and characterize the high-altitude environment at the time of collection. Considering the atmospheric residency time (7–10 days), the extreme temperature regime of the environment (−75°C), and the absence of a mechanism that could sustain particulates at high altitude, it is unlikely that our samples indicate a permanent, stratospheric ecosystem. However, the presence of viable fungi and bacteria in transoceanic stratosphere remains relevant to understanding the distribution and extent of microbial life on Earth.


Upper atmosphere Stratosphere Microbiology Pacific Ocean