Flying Plankton
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Dave Thurlow, Host
I'm Dave Thurlow from the Mount Washington Observatory and this is The Weather Notebook. Today on the show, we see how spiders fly, and how they use the weather to inhabit desolate islands.

Going back to 1883, we find that an island in Indonesia called Krakatau, was that year, destroyed by a volcanic eruption. What was once a rainforest became a 5 square mile heap of smoldering rock in an instant, with no life on it at all. Botanists of the day quickly realized that they were now presented with a remarkable opportunity -- to watch how life replenishes itself.

Nine months after the explosion, a team of French scientists visited the island searching for life and found only a single tiny spider spinning it's web. The process that delivered this spider to the island was something called ballooning, where spiders spin out enough thread to catch the wind and lift them into the air -- their landing spot determined by the current weather. Spiders can, in this manner, travel from leaf to leaf or from continent to continent.

In 1930, another group of scientists managed to find, not only spiders, but a full menu of tiny life forms raining down from the sky collectively referred to as aeolian plankton, the atmospheric equivalent of oceanic plankton, organisms that drift with the ocean currents. The wind and weather spawned an entire ecosystem by delivering aeolian plankton to the lifeless landscape of Krakatau, which today is on it's way back to becoming a rich tropical rainforest, pioneered by a single spider.

The Weather Notebook is produced by the Mount Washington Observatory in cooperation with New Hampshire Public Radio...funded by The National Science Foundation, and underwritten by Subaru, maker of the all weather Legacy. Subaru, the beauty of All-Wheel Drive.