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sector_ico_Environment_trans Environment

Understanding the algal microbiomes living on alpine snowfields in south-western B.C.

  • Project Leaders: Lynne Quarmby
  • Institutions: Simon Fraser University (SFU)
  • Budget: $117271
  • Competition: Sector Innovation Program - Round 4
  • Genome Centre(s): Genome British Columbia
  • Fiscal Year: 2018
  • Status: Active

The “watermelon” or red snow that is observed globally in alpine and polar regions during the summer, is caused by blooms of microscopic algae and their associated microbiome, including fungi, ciliates, bacteria, archaea and viruses. While white snow reflects solar radiation, red snow absorbs up to 20% more energy from the sun, which accelerates snowmelt and increases global heat retention.

Red snow is common in B.C.’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 we know that red snow accelerates warming and melting, we lack knowledge about the distribution, seasonal progression and biology of snow algae microbiomes.

This research aims to provide a better understanding of how this microbiome persists in this harsh environment, and its effect on the larger ecosystem. The team 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 B.C. Snow Algae Culture Collection and a biobank of field samples to support future research.

This work 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.