Wedge Mountain July 2016, photo by James Frystak

James Frystak is not new to citizen science. As a professional expedition photographer and videographer, he spent ten days inside the fumarole ice-caves of an episodically active volcano where he assisted scientists studying the climate, mapping the caves, and collecting samples in a search for life in extremely harsh conditions.

Compared to life in an ice cave filled with steaming noxious gases, life on the snow doesn’t seem so extreme!

James heard about the B.C. Snow Algae project last summer after he’d seen pink snow on Wedge Mountain. Fortunately for us, he caught some gorgeous footage of acres of pink…

Semaphore Lakes, near Pemberton, July 3 2016 photo by Klaus Tetzlaff

Our primary goal for the 2017 field season is to learn when and where algae bloom in the mountains of southwestern British Columbia. We can only do this with the help of citizen scientists who send us reports of their sightings of green/orange/pink/red snow. We will not be collecting physical samples this year, although that aspect of the project will return in 2018. This year we hope to receive a large number of reports spanning the whole season, including multiple reports from some locations. Observations by citizen-scientists are critical as we address basic questions such as: Are blooms are green…

Stunning colours of Penguin Poo in Antarctica, photo by Gaston Lacombe (

Over the next few weeks spring will begin its slow creep up the mountains, arriving in the high alpine by late summer. The arrival of spring to an alpine region can be marked by the appearance of coloured snow, sometimes bright red ‘watermelon snow’, other times a more subtle pink, orange or green tinge that is easy to miss.

Many different things, including mineral deposits and animal waste can colour snow. One of the most striking is Penguin poo, coloured by the abundant carotenoids in the birds’ krill diet. Blooms of snow algae are the predominant cause of coloured snow…

Pink snow on Trophy Mountain, Anton Bielousov, July 9 2016

During the 2016 field season we received over 50 reports of pink snow sightings in the backcountry of southwestern B.C. Some of these backcountry travellers submitted photos with their reports and a few brought us samples of the snow. First the sites, then the cells.

Last winter, when I was just beginning to think about working on snow algae, I wrote to Thomas Leya of the Fraunhofer Institute and curator of the CCCryo snow algae culture collection in Potsdam, Germany. Next thing I knew, I was sitting around a table with about a dozen others, attending the first International Snow Algae Meeting (SAM1, Potsdam, May 2016). Thomas is passionate about all things snow algae and he is a central figure in this budding field, enriching us all with stories of adventure, historical and personal.

Crimson Cliffs. A View of the Coloured Snow in Lat. 76. 25 N. & Long. 68. W.” Sir John Ross, 1819.

Shortly after that meeting, two of my new colleagues from SAM1…

After more than 20 years studying the molecular biology of cell motility, I’ve refocussed my research program. While I continue to be in awe of the molecular machines of life, I’ve become wholly distracted by the urgency of climate change.

I’ve joined a handful of researchers from around the world working to understand snow algae — how they colonize and thrive on Arctic, Antarctic and alpine snow and ice. My group in Vancouver, Canada will focus on our local alpine regions, drawing on a passionate community of backcountry enthusiasts who work with us as citizen scientists.

Not only do the…

Lynne Quarmby

Professor of Molecular Biology & Biochemistry, Simon Fraser University; Climate watcher and snow algae researcher

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