Theses Doctoral

Connecting Water Quality With Air Quality Through Microbial Aerosols

Dueker, M. Elias

Aerosol production from surface waters results in the transfer of aquatic materials (including nutrients and bacteria) to air. These materials can then be transported by onshore winds to land, representing a biogeochemical connection between aquatic and terrestrial systems not normally considered. In urban waterfront environments, this transfer could result in emissions of pathogenic bacteria from contaminated waters. Despite the potential importance of this link, sources, near-shore deposition, identity and viability of microbial aerosols are largely uncharacterized. This dissertation focuses on the environmental and biological mechanisms that define this water-air connection, as a means to build our understanding of the biogeochemical, biogeographical, and public health implications of the transfer of surface water materials to the near-shore environment in both urban and non-urban environments. The effects of tidal height, wind speed and fog on coastal aerosols and microbial content were first quantified on a non-urban coast of Maine, USA. Culture-based, culture-independent, and molecular methods were used to simultaneously sample microbial aerosols while monitoring meteorological parameters. Aerosols at this site displayed clear marine influence and high concentrations of ecologically-relevant nutrients. Coarse aerosol concentrations significantly increased with tidal height, onshore wind speed, and fog presence. Tidal height and fog presence did not significantly influence total microbial aerosol concentrations, but did have a significant effect on culturable microbial aerosol fallout. Molecular analyses of the microbes settling out of near-shore aerosols provided further evidence of local ocean to terrestrial transport of microbes. Aerosol and surface ocean bacterial communities shared species and in general were dominated by organisms previously sampled in marine environments. Fog presence strengthened the microbial connection between water and land through air by increasing microbial aerosol settling rates and enhancing viability of aerosolized marine microbes. Using methods developed for the non-urban site, the role of local environment and winds in mediating water-air connections was further investigated in the urban environment. The local environment, including water surfaces, was an important source of microbial aerosols at urban sites. Large portions of the urban waterfront microbial aerosol communities were aquatic and, at a highly polluted Superfund waterfront, were closely related to bacteria previously described in environments contaminated with hydrocarbons, heavy metals, sewage and other industrial waste. Culturable urban aerosols and surface waters contained bacterial genera known to include human pathogens and asthma agents. High onshore winds strengthened this water-air connection by playing both a transport and production role. The microbial connection between water and air quality outlined by this dissertation highlights the need for information on the mechanisms that deliver surface water materials to terrestrial systems on a much larger scale. Moving from point measurements to landscape-level analyses will allow for the quantitative assessment of implications for this microbial water-air-land transfer in both urban and non-urban arenas.


  • thumnail for Dueker_columbia_0054D_10668.pdf Dueker_columbia_0054D_10668.pdf application/pdf 8.1 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Earth and Environmental Sciences
Thesis Advisors
Uriarte, Maria
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 3, 2012