Snow Biology – Algae

ambience: River, footsteps walking in snow
This time of year at high elevations, you can still find pockets of snow. And if conditions are right, these snow banks may be home to an ecosystem that’s surprising and colorful. I’m Jim Metzner and this is Pulse of the Planet.

“Its kind of hard to image sometimes that snow can be filled with life as it is at certain times of the year”

We’re on the Tug Hill Plateau in upstate New York with Ron Hoham, a professor of biology at Colgate University. There are colored patches of snow in evidence and no dogs around.

“For me, I’m a microbiologist working in snow and where my season begins is when the snow packs melt and it’s really important for water to be in snow because as we understand life you have to have liquid water. And you need light to go through the snow to cause these microbes called algae that I work with to be triggered to begin to develop and grow in the snow. And when they do this, they can form very intense colors in the spring and summer snows, in mostly alpine regions, or regions (like) where we are right now which gets over 300 inches of snowfall annually, which sustains these life forms in the spring when there is ample snow during the melt season.

These microbes of algae, which cause the colored snow, belong to the green algae and even though they belong to the green algae the colors can be green and orange or red.

The green color comes from chlorophyll, which they have a chloroplast like you’d find in green plants or trees The orange and red colors come from secondary pigments that will screen out ultraviolet light which will then help protect the cells from getting UV damage. This is really important for their survival that they do this.”

We’ll hear more about snow biology in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation.

music

Snow Biology - Algae

Snow banks in June? Well yes, and they provide a microhabitat to a colorful resident.
Air Date:06/08/2007
Scientist:
Transcript:

ambience: River, footsteps walking in snow
This time of year at high elevations, you can still find pockets of snow. And if conditions are right, these snow banks may be home to an ecosystem that’s surprising and colorful. I’m Jim Metzner and this is Pulse of the Planet.

“Its kind of hard to image sometimes that snow can be filled with life as it is at certain times of the year”

We’re on the Tug Hill Plateau in upstate New York with Ron Hoham, a professor of biology at Colgate University. There are colored patches of snow in evidence and no dogs around.

“For me, I’m a microbiologist working in snow and where my season begins is when the snow packs melt and it’s really important for water to be in snow because as we understand life you have to have liquid water. And you need light to go through the snow to cause these microbes called algae that I work with to be triggered to begin to develop and grow in the snow. And when they do this, they can form very intense colors in the spring and summer snows, in mostly alpine regions, or regions (like) where we are right now which gets over 300 inches of snowfall annually, which sustains these life forms in the spring when there is ample snow during the melt season.

These microbes of algae, which cause the colored snow, belong to the green algae and even though they belong to the green algae the colors can be green and orange or red.

The green color comes from chlorophyll, which they have a chloroplast like you’d find in green plants or trees The orange and red colors come from secondary pigments that will screen out ultraviolet light which will then help protect the cells from getting UV damage. This is really important for their survival that they do this.”

We'll hear more about snow biology in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation.

music