B.C. study looks at snow-melting algae
Vancouver – Genome BC is funding research into the microbiome of the algae that causes red snow in hopes of understanding how this microbiome persists in this harsh environment and how it affects the larger ecosystem.
'Watermelon' or red snow has puzzled mountain climbers, explorers, and naturalists for thousands of years, Genome BC said in a news release. Observed globally in alpine and polar regions during the summer, it is caused by blooms of microscopic algae and their associated microbiome, including fungi, bacteria and viruses. While white snow reflects solar radiation, red snow absorbs up to 20 per cent more energy from the sun, which accelerates snowmelt and increases global heat retention.
Red snow is common in British Columbia's mountains and contributes to the rate of snow melt, thereby directly affecting B.C. watersheds where high elevation snow packs produce the flow of water into salmon streams and drinking water reservoirs. While scientists know that red snow accelerates warming and melting, they lack knowledge about the distribution, seasonal progression and biology of snow algae microbiomes, the release said.
Genome BC is funding research in to the microbiome of the algae that causes red snow to provide a better understanding of how this microbiome persists in this harsh environment and how it affects the larger ecosystem. A team led by Simon Fraser University's Lynne Quarmby will seek to identify which microbial species are present, why species occur in different locations at different times, and how these species interact. In addition, this project will establish a BC Snow Algae Culture Collection and a biobank of field samples to support future research.
This work, funded in the fourth round of Genome BC's Sector Innovation Program (SIP) will be foundational for future assessment of climate change impacts in our alpine regions and it will inform water management practices in the changing climate.