Metagenomic and satellite analyses of red snow in the Russian Arctic

PeerJ. 2015 Dec 10;3:e1491. doi: 10.7717/peerj.1491. eCollection 2015.


Cryophilic algae thrive in liquid water within snow and ice in alpine and polar regions worldwide. Blooms of these algae lower albedo (reflection of sunlight), thereby altering melting patterns (Kohshima, Seko & Yoshimura, 1993; Lutz et al., 2014; Thomas & Duval, 1995). Here metagenomic DNA analysis and satellite imaging were used to investigate red snow in Franz Josef Land in the Russian Arctic. Franz Josef Land red snow metagenomes confirmed that the communities are composed of the autotroph Chlamydomonas nivalis that is supporting a complex viral and heterotrophic bacterial community. Comparisons with white snow communities from other sites suggest that white snow and ice are initially colonized by fungal-dominated communities and then succeeded by the more complex C. nivalis-heterotroph red snow. Satellite image analysis showed that red snow covers up to 80% of the surface of snow and ice fields in Franz Josef Land and globally. Together these results show that C. nivalis supports a local food web that is on the rise as temperatures warm, with potential widespread impacts on alpine and polar environments worldwide.

Keywords: Arctic; Franz Josef Land; Metagenomics; Phage; Red snow; Snow; Viruses; Watermelon snow.

Grant support

This work is supported by Russkaya Arktika (Russian Arctic) National Park (a Federal State-Funded Organization; 57 Soviet Cosmonaut Avenue; Arkhangel’sk 163031) and the National Geographic Society (Washington, D.C.). The research was partially sponsored by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Grant GBMF-3781 to FR. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.