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DKK 15 million from Novo for research in the clouds

The Novo Nordisk Foundation has granted DKK 15 million from its interdisciplinary synergy programme to project DRAMA. With researchers from both Nat and Tech, the project will decipher the role of atmospheric microbial aerosols for cloud formation.

2020.09.18 | Peter F. Gammelby

Photo of white and grey clouds on a blue sky.

Clouds play an important role for the amount of sunlight that reaches the surface of the Earth. An interdisciplinary team of researchers is studying what bioaerosols mean for the formation of ice in clouds. Photo: Colourbox

    DRAMA is an abbreviation of Deciphering the Role of Atmospheric Microbial Aerosols.

    Microbial aerosols, or bioaerosols, are microscopic airborne particles of biological origin – such as plant pollen and spores from fungi, bacteria and microalgae. Recent research suggests that these aerosols have a significant impact on how clouds are formed and how they behave; knowledge that is of great importance to all of us.

    Clouds affect the amount of sunlight that reaches the surface of the Earth, and the amount reflected back into space, and this has a major impact on the climate.

    Even though the research has collected an increasing amount of data confirming that aerosols, especially bioaerosols such as bacteria, have a strong impact on the properties of clouds, we lack detailed knowledge about the fundamental role of bioaerosols in clouds.

    For instance, a number of studies have shown that bioaerosols impact the life span of clouds and promote the formation of ice in clouds at temperatures between 0°C and -15°C. Ice in clouds affects the formation of precipitation.

    The majority of aerosols in the atmosphere consist of mineral particles, and unlike bioaerosols, they promote the formation of ice at lower temperatures, between -15 °C and -40 °C.

    Closing knowledge gaps

    "To close the gaps in our knowledge about the role of bioaerosols, we need direct measurements of their metabolic activity and their role in ice formation. In DRAMA, we’re gathering experts in the fields of chemistry, molecular biology, biology, meteorology and engineering to find this knowledge and close the gaps," explains Professor Kai Finster from the Department of Biology, who is heading the research project.

    Ultimately, DRAMA’s ambition is to improve weather and climate models.

    The other AU participants in the DRAMA project are

    • Tina Santl-Temkiv, assistant professor, Department of Biology
    • Thomas Boesen, Cryo-EM facility manager at the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics
    • Merete Bilde, professor, Department of Chemistry
    • Tobias Weidner, associate professor, Department of Chemistryg Genetik. 
    • Claus Melvad, professor, Department of Engineering
    • Mikkel Bo Nielsen, assistant professor, Aarhus University School of Engineering
Faculty of Natural Sciences