Many of the microorganisms present in the samples can also be found in background air samples, the scientists say. The scientists think that the trans-Pacific dust plume events were noteworthy because of the elevated amounts of microorganisms they were depositing onto Mt. Bachelor. A few species of marine archaea were found only during plume events, and these species have never been seen before at high altitudes.
David Smith, lead author of the study and graduate of the doctoral program in astrobiology at the University of Washington, commented on the findings in a news release.
"The long-range transport and surprising level of species richness in the upper atmosphere overturns traditional paradigms in aerobiology," Smith said. "It's a small world. Global wind circulation can move Earth's smallest types of life to just about anywhere."
Smith says that future research aimed at understanding how bacteria can survive at high altitudes could be invaluable to the fields of biotechnology and medicine.