ISU Professor Aho studies how airborne bacteria, fungi help it rain and snow

By Idaho State University

ISU Professor Aho studies how airborne bacteria, fungi help it rain and snow

Ken Aho in his laboratory. (Photo by Eric Gordon, University Photographer)

POCATELLO – Most people don’t think of weather as having a biological component and aren’t aware of the role airborne bacteria and fungi have in helping create rain and snow. But Ken Aho, Idaho State University associate professor of biological sciences, studies this phenomenon.

“Weather is not as simple as we think – it is not just air currents and low- and high-pressure systems. Organisms in the atmosphere may dictate, to a degree, when and where precipitation falls,” Aho said. “The atmosphere is full of ice-nucleating  bacteria and other microbes that can trigger precipitation. Ski areas already use ice-nucleating organisms in snow making operations.”

Understanding airborne bacteria and fungi in precipitation may help scientists to better understand weather patterns, particularly precipitation levels. 

Working with colleagues from the United States and Europe and funded by a National Science Foundation grant, Aho participated in a four-year study to study organisms floating in the air, some of which help form rain and ice. The researchers took samples from three locations in the United States, in Pocatello at ISU, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana at Louisiana State University and Virginia Tech in Blackford, Virginia. Some of the results of the research were recently published in the article “Spatiotemporal patterns of microbial composition and diversity in precipitation” in the journal Ecological Monographs

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