‘Watermelon’ or red snow has puzzled mountain climbers, explorers, and naturalists for thousands of years. 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% 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.
Genome BC is funding research in to the microbiome of the algae what causes red snow to provide a better understanding of how this microbiome persists in this harsh environment, and its effect on 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 B.C. 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. Other projects, all focused around different microbiomes, include:
“Microbiomes exist in our own bodies and throughout the world around us,” said Dr. Catalina Lopez- Correa, Chief Scientific Officer and Vice President, Sectors, at Genome BC. “We are investing in these SIP projects so that we can better understand the role that the microbiome plays in larger ecosystems.”