Articles | Volume 17, issue 19
Research article
09 Oct 2017
Research article |  | 09 Oct 2017

Variations in airborne bacterial communities at high altitudes over the Noto Peninsula (Japan) in response to Asian dust events

Teruya Maki, Kazutaka Hara, Ayumu Iwata, Kevin C. Lee, Kei Kawai, Kenji Kai, Fumihisa Kobayashi, Stephen B. Pointing, Stephen Archer, Hiroshi Hasegawa, and Yasunobu Iwasaka

Abstract. Aerosol particles, including airborne microorganisms, are transported through the free troposphere from the Asian continental area to the downwind area in East Asia and can influence climate changes, ecosystem dynamics, and human health. However, the variations present in airborne bacterial communities in the free troposphere over downwind areas are poorly understood, and there are few studies that provide an in-depth examination of the effects of long-range transport of aerosols (natural and anthropogenic particles) on bacterial variations. In this study, the vertical distributions of airborne bacterial communities at high altitudes were investigated and the bacterial variations were compared between dust events and non-dust events.

Aerosols were collected at three altitudes from ground level to the free troposphere (upper level: 3000 or 2500 m; middle level: 1200 or 500 m; and low level: 10 m) during Asian dust events and non-dust events over the Noto Peninsula, Japan, where westerly winds carry aerosols from the Asian continental areas. During Asian dust events, air masses at high altitudes were transported from the Asian continental area by westerly winds, and laser imaging detection and ranging (lidar) data indicated high concentrations of non-spherical particles, suggesting that dust-sand particles were transported from the central desert regions of Asia. The air samples collected during the dust events contained 10–100 times higher concentrations of microscopic fluorescent particles and optical particle counter (OPC) measured particles than in non-dust events. The air masses of non-dust events contained lower amounts of dust-sand particles. Additionally, some air samples showed relatively high levels of black carbon, which were likely transported from the Asian continental coasts. Moreover, during the dust events, microbial particles at altitudes of  >  1200 m increased to the concentrations ranging from 1. 2 × 106 to 6. 6 × 106 particles m−3. In contrast, when dust events disappeared, the microbial particles at  >  1200 m decreased slightly to microbial-particle concentrations ranging from 6. 4 × 104 to 8. 9 × 105 particles m−3.

High-throughput sequencing technology targeting 16S rRNA genes (16S rDNA) revealed that the bacterial communities collected at high altitudes (from 500 to 3000 m) during dust events exhibited higher diversities and were predominantly composed of natural-sand/terrestrial bacteria, such as Bacillus members. During non-dust periods, airborne bacteria at high altitudes were mainly composed of anthropogenic/terrestrial bacteria (Actinobacteria), marine bacteria (Cyanobacteria and Alphaproteobacteria), and plant-associated bacteria (Gammaproteobacteria), which shifted in composition in correspondence with the origins of the air masses and the meteorological conditions. The airborne bacterial structures at high altitudes suggested remarkable changes in response to air mass sources, which contributed to the increases in community richness and to the domination of a few bacterial taxa.

Short summary
Atmospheric bacteria (bioaerosol) are transported from the Asian continental area to downwind areas in East Asia and influence climate changes, ecosystem dynamics, and human health. Aerosol samples transported for long distances were collected at high altitudes (500–3000 m) using a sophisticated helicopter-based sampling system. The high-throughput DNA sequencing remarkably revealed that the atmospheric bacterial structures at high altitudes change in response to the air mass sources.
Final-revised paper