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.
Shortly after that meeting, two of my new colleagues from SAM1, Steffie Lutz and Liane Benning, published an exciting paper in Nature Communications titled, “The biogeography of red snow microbiomes and their role in melting arctic glaciers.” In this paper, Steffie, Liane and their co-workers provided estimates of the effects of dirty, green and red snow on albedo, a measure of the amount of energy from the sun that is absorbed rather than reflected. In other words, it was the first step in quantifying the effects of snow algae as a positive feed-back loop for climate change-induced melting of Arctic ice.
One of my tweets about the Lutz et al. paper caught the attention of a local newspaper reporter, Brent Richter. Brent’s article in the North Shore News was a fortuitous launch of our plan-as-you-go 2016 field season. As we worked to define our research goals, research fellow Laura Hilton and I scrambled to facilitate the involvement of backcountry enthusiasts interested in joining our new quest to understand the alpine snow algae of B.C.
We received reports of pink snow sightings from over 50 locations in the region. Coordinates provided by a report from nearby Hollyburn Mountain guided Laura & I to hike in and collect samples. We also prepared small lightweight field kits for a handful of generous explorers who then brought us samples from farther afield.
By the end of the season, we had field samples from a dozen locations and successfully cultured algae from Hollyburn Mountain, Flora Peak, West Lion, Mt Face, Mt. Locomotive, Slalok Summit and Goat Ridge.
Future posts in this series will bring you photos from the field, microscopic images of the field samples and cultured algae from the 2016 season, along with a few words on what we hope to learn about these intriguing algae. (Also coming soon is a post on how to join our 2017 field season).
Follow the B.C. Snow Algae Project at Snow Algae Reports.