Have you seen Pink Snow? In the spring and summer, melting snowpack may turn pink, this phenomenon is caused by a diverse community of microbes (algae, bacteria, and fungi) specifically adapted to live in the snow. These snow algae blooms are completely natural, but what triggers them is not yet well understood. What is known, is that these algae blooms can have a dramatic effect on snowmelt dynamics. So what can Pink Snow tell us about the future of our alpine ecosystems and why do these blooms occur? No historical records exist for blooms of algae on any mountain range, but Robin Kodner, along with the Living Snow Project’s unique team of backcountry enthusiasts, are out to change that by heading high into the mountains to study this natural phenomenon and discover the real story behind Pink Snow.
Robin Kodner is an Associate Professor of Environmental Science at Western Washington University. Robin started her research career studying algal evolution over geologic time as a graduate student at Harvard University and has since moved on to study how modern algal communities respond to climate change through her postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Washington and her lab at WWU since 2012. Her passion for playing in both the mountains and ocean has driven Robin to focus her research on field-based studies. She uses environmental-based genomic and bioinformatics methods that integrate evolution with analysis of community structure and phylogeography. Currently, her lab works on the snow microbiome from the Pacific Northwest as a model to study how these communities evolve in response to environmental change, as well as studying microbial communities in Bellingham Bay and their response to changing ocean conditions over seasons and years. She founded and directs The Living Snow Project in 2017 to enable collection of large-scale datasets of pink snow and engage the community in her research. Robin has also been an outdoor educator in the mountains and on sailboats, using these environments as platforms for teaching basic sciences.
OPB Field Guide Episode: It’s Alive! The high country mystery of red snow