Khakassky Reserve’s Research Department found red snow in mountains
Wednesday July 15th, 2015
The Research Department of the Khakassky Reserve undertook a planned expedition in the middle of June. The researchers found an unusual natural phenomenon—red snow—in the Shaman Mountains, not far from the mountain lake at altitude of 1.700 m above sea level.
The color of the snow is caused by a watermelon snow (Chlamydomonas nivalis), a species of algae that is not enough studied in Khakassia yet. It is a unicellular green alga containing a secondary red carotenoid pigment (astaxanthin) in addition to chlorophyll. Watermelon snow is cryophilic (cold-loving) and thrives in freezing water.
The alga prefers sunlight and cold weather. That is the reason why it thrives in the snow cover of Shaman Mountains. If temperature increases to +4° C, the cells will die or shift to a resting stage.
The snow and ice algae represent a very small group of species that can survive at freezing temperatures and frosts. Green algae, blue-green algae, and diatoms are the prevailing types of cryophilic algae. They can cause green, yellow, blue, red, brown, and black color of snow and ice.
Red snow is common in alpine and coastal polar regions worldwide. It can be found in Caucasus, Northern Ural, Kamchatka (areas with permanent snow), Siberia (Aldan Mountains), even in the Arctic, Franz Josef Land, Kara Sea, and so on. The snow algae survive there in the form of resting cells or spores. They awake when there is enough sunlight, dissolved gases, nutrients, or water.
It is supposed, that the quality of light is the determinant factor for their reproduction. Red-colored snow is not dangerous and does not influence environment. It is a natural phenomenon, like northern lights and rainbow. The snow colored by the Chlamydomonas nivalis acquires a watermelon taste, however, we would recommend you not to try it: it may cause a digestive disorder.