The global impact of bacterial processes on carbon mass

Ervens, Barbara; Amato, Pierre

Many recent studies have identified biological material as a major fraction of ambient aerosol loading. A small fraction of these bioaerosols consist of bacteria that have attracted a lot of attention due to their role in cloud formation and adverse health effects. Current atmospheric models consider bacteria as inert quantities and neglect cell growth and multiplication. We provide here a framework to estimate the production of secondary biological aerosol (SBA) mass in clouds by microbial cell growth and multiplication. The best estimate of SBA formation rates of 3.7 Tg yrinline-formula−1 is comparable to previous model estimates of the primary emission of bacteria into the atmosphere, and thus this might represent a previously unrecognized source of biological aerosol material. We discuss in detail the large uncertainties associated with our estimates based on the rather sparse available data on bacteria abundance, growth conditions, and properties. Additionally, the loss of water-soluble organic carbon (WSOC) due to microbial processes in cloud droplets has been suggested to compete under some conditions with WSOC loss by chemical (OH) reactions. Our estimates suggest that microbial and chemical processes might lead to a global loss of WSOC of 8–11 and 8–20 Tg yrinline-formula−1, respectively. While this estimate is very approximate, the analysis of the uncertainties and ranges of all parameters suggests that high concentrations of metabolically active bacteria in clouds might represent an efficient sink for organics. Our estimates also highlight the urgent need for more data concerning microbial concentrations, fluxes, and activity in the atmosphere to evaluate the role of bacterial processes as net aerosol sinks or sources on various spatial and temporal scales.

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Ervens, Barbara / Amato, Pierre: The global impact of bacterial processes on carbon mass. 2020. Copernicus Publications.

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