What is living snow?

Have you seen the snow turn pink in the spring and summer in the mountains?  That pink snow is actually a community of microbes specifically adapted to live in the snow, and are supported by microalgae that give the pink or red color. The algae’s dark color is due to a pigment in the cell that helps the cell deal with a high light environment and oxidative stress. The dark color increases solar absorption on the snow surface (reduces albedo) and increases the rate of snow and ice melt. Glacial melt due to climate change will likely present more favorable conditions for snow algae growth, while simultaneously reducing snow algae habitat.  The Living Snow Project, run out of the Kodner Lab in the Biology Department is studying snow algae biodiversity using DNA samples from across the Cascades using both microscopy and DNA-based analysis. Snow algae found in the Cascades are similar to taxa found in other alpine regions around the world including Chloromonas sp. And Chlainomonas sp. (putative new species) and Chlamydomonas nivilas. Among these taxa Chlainomonas sp., a new species in the Cascades, dominates in low elevation snow and is particularly threatened by a warming climate.

Snow algae images (black and white = Scanning Electron Micrographs; color images = light micrographs (400x magnification))

A short (15 min) talk Dr. Kodner gave at the Northwest Avalance Center’s annual snow science meeting in 2017:

A long (50 min) talk Dr. gave for the WWU Huxley Seminar Series in fall 2019: