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 algae bloom in some spectacular locations, the cells themselves are gorgeous. Low temperature constrains the biochemistry of photosynthesis creating risk of oxidative damage. One of the most dramatic adaptations of the cryophilic algae is production of secondary carotenoid that serves as antioxidant, energy sink and light shield. Thus, green algae on snow are often red. Red snow reflects less solar radiation than white snow, producing an increase in local temperature and a positive feedback loop of melting and algal growth. As the extent and seasonal duration of snow and ice coverage diminishes with global warming, there are indications of algal blooms on an increasing fraction of remaining snowfields.
This new publication will provide updates on our research and adventures. There will be science, art and activism.
Follow us at Snow Algae Reports.