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Aeromicrobiology - or what is alive in the air around Nuuk

Tina Temkiv in action, feeding the samplers with RNA preservative – a solution that preserves RNA from degradation and consequently allows us to evaluate whether the collected microbes are in an active or dormant state during atmospheric transport. Photo: Kai Finster
Evening air sampling on a peak close to Kobbefjørd field station. Two samplers collecting inland air samples. Photo: Kai Finster

In late July, 2013, a larger number of air samples were collected on a mountain peak (550 m) situated close to the Kobbefjord field station (Nuuk Area, Greenland). The air samples were collected with high-volume impingers (modified vacuum cleaners) directly into a solution of “RNA preservative”, which preserves RNA and thus allows investigating whether the bacterial cells were in an active state while being airborne.

From the samples, we can elucidate if the microbial cells actively participate in the alteration of chemical constituents of the atmosphere. In parallel, samples of rain water, snow, lake water, fjord water and vegetation were collected in the vicinity and subjected to the same analyses.

We intend to compare the bacterial community composition of the atmospheric samples and the samples from local sources in order to identify the sources of the microbial aerosols. In collaboration with colleagues from Danish Meteorological Institute, the origin of the air masses that were sampled will be reconstructed. This will aid in further evaluating the contribution of local sources vs. long distance transport to the composition of the microbial aerosols.

The project is closely linked to our Astrobiology activities as we can use our knowledge on the impact of microbes on terrestrial atmospheric alteration to understand spectroscopic information that we will receive about exo-planet atmospheres in the upcoming year.


Tina Santl Temkiv, Stellar Astrophysics Center, Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, Aarhus University
Ulrich Gosewinkel Karlson, Dept. of Environmental Science, National Centre for Environment and Energy (DCE), Aarhus University
Kai Finster, Microbiology Section, Dept. of Bioscience, Aarhus University

For more information, contact Kai Finster