Flood Microbiome

Flood Microbiomes

3 people swabbing the sidewalk.

Urban flood water contains a diverse array of contaminants, including industrial and household chemicals, fuels and sewage found in an urban environment. These contaminants can be deposited on flooded surfaces, presenting exposure risks even after flood waters have receded. NYC’s combined sewer system – consisting of stormwater and municipal sewers combined in the same pipe – presents an additional challenge. During high intensity rain events, the large volume of water conveyed to these drains can lead to sewer backups and overflows into the streets and households of low lying areas.

All environmental surfaces support microbial communities whose diversity and identities reflect the history of that environment, and different surfaces are able to support different communities due to surface properties and chemistry. Disruptions can change a community profile in ways that reflect the disruption itself. Very little metagenomic data exists on the impact of flooding on microbial communities. The little data that exists shows evidence of a shift in the microbial population in the aftermath of a flood, away from its stable population and towards a population that mirror the flood water.

This project investigates the changes to microbiome following a flood event, specifically considering the following questions:

  • Does the microbial population on urban surfaces (e.g., sidewalk, soil, walls or floors of homes) shift to reflect the community of microorganisms in sewage and storm water?
  • How do different surfaces affect the evolution of the microbial community in the aftermath of a flood?
  • How does the the community fingerprint reflect the flood event? And, are there lingering health risks from sewage microorganisms after flood waters recede?
  • What is the best methodology for collecting data?

Read more about the project here.


This project was initiated with the support of the Marron Institute of Urban Management, through a Marron Institute Seed Grant Award.