This experiment is part of the Environmental Citizen Science Challenge Grant. Browse more projects

Documenting pink snow across mountain ranges through The Living Snow Project

Raised of $5,000 Goal
Ended on 1/06/21
Campaign Ended
  • $429
  • 9%
  • Finished
    on 1/06/21

About This Project

The Living Snow Project is documenting pink snow blooms and characterizing the microbiome across mountain ranges. Pink snow is the seasonal blooms of pink-colored algae that influence rates of glacier melt by darkening snow, a process that is exacerbated by warming climate. Volunteer observations and collections of pink snow for DNA analysis help generate a robust dataset that can uncover patterns in bloom events over climate-relevant timescales.

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What is the context of this research?

The Living Snow Project is a university run citizen science program that empowers local communities to track and sample pink snow, an iconic feature of alpine spring and summer snowpack and glaciers. Snow algae produce intense blooms turning snow and ice pink, orange, or bright red due to bight pigments assumed to provide UV or oxidative stress protection. Their bright color darkens the snow surface, reducing reflectance of solar radiation and accelerating snowmelt. Thus, glacial melting due to climate change will likely present more favorable conditions for growth, while simultaneously also reducing habitat. There are many different species of snow algae and it is still unknown how biodiversity and biogeography affect snow and glacier melt.

What is the significance of this project?

Climate change is causing glacial loss worldwide, and snow algae blooms can further accelerate melt. Glacial melting also presents favorable conditions for algae growth, while simultaneously reducing their habitat. Volunteer observation and collections of large datasets across mountain-range scales are needed to understand how this process is changing over time. We recruit volunteers through the outdoor recreation community, which is under-engaged in conservation despite their reliance on healthy ecosystems for recreational opportunities. By empowering people of all ages to participate in science in the places they love to play, we help cultivate a deeper awareness of and appreciation for complex alpine ecosystems.

What are the goals of the project?

In 2021, we are expanding our program to integrate algae collections with bloom size and assessment of the snow habitat. Currently, volunteers can participate by collecting samples with a sample collection kit or making observations with the Living Snow Project app. The app stores GPS coordinates and notes about observations if the phone is out of service and send coordinates once the phone reconnects. Participants who collect samples scoop pink snow into DNA preservative using a sample kit. With improvements to the App, volunteers can include measurements of pink snow patches, record snow pH and snow depth, and upload pictures. We plan a large recruitment effort spring 2021 to capitalize on the record number of new visitors to public lands in 2020.


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Sampling kits include sterile 50mL tubes filled with DNA preservative and nitrile gloves. We would like to add a feature this coming season were volunteers can also collect pH measurement of the snow. This funding will support the costs of purchasing pH strips and more chemicals for DNA preservative for 300 sample kits.

DNA sequencing includes one Illumina MiSeq run that will sequence DNA from 300 samples collected by volunteers.

An important part of the campaign to support innovations for the 2021 sampling season includes adding features to our App that will allow us to pair DNA data with models for detecting snow algae using remote sensing technologies. This funding will support our App intern who developed the bare bones App in 2020.

Endorsed by

Living Snow Project enables us as mountain guides to engage our clients in conversations and field science about the health of the environment that is supporting their mountain adventures. As a mountain guide service, we are reliant on the presence and longevity of seasonal snow and glaciers. This type of climate change research will help us adapt as users of these landscapes to the changing climate and contribute in ways that are beneficial to mountain recreation and beyond.
Living Snow Project is addressing crucial questions about how alpine ecosystems are responding to climate change. This project has very broad implications - even beyond Earth. To understand how life on other planets might have responded to changing environments and habitat loss, astrobiologists depend on rigorous studies from Earth's extreme environments. In my own research, I study how Mars underwent multiple climate changes in its past, and I look forward to collaborating with Dr. Kodner on the broad implications of this important research.
Public engagement -- citizen science -- is critical for mitigating the impacts of climate change. People won't protect what they don't know and our natural world is in need of allies. Real, tangible, specific actions give volunteers insights, curiosity, education, and agency in many areas of decision-making: policy, peer outreach, ballot box, daily choices. Our backcountry community is ready for action and the Living Snow Project links activities people love to a brighter future. Public will is necessary to turn the table on climate change!

Project Timeline

Snow algae only grow in the late spring and summer months. Collections happen from late May - September.

We will be processing 2020 samples first quarter of 2021.

Spring 2021: make sample kits, recruit volunteers, distribute kits

Summer 2021: ongoing recruitment, volunteer outreach, sampling processing

Fall 2021: sample processing, DNA sequencings, data analysis, data outreach

Nov 30, 2020

Project Launched

Jan 01, 2021

Begin development of new App features.

Feb 28, 2021

Outreach (via email) to volunteers from 2018-2020 to share results from their samples 

Apr 01, 2021

Final tests of new App featurs.

Apr 26, 2021

New recruitment to new communities engaged after/during COVID. 

Meet the Team

Robin Kodner
Robin Kodner
Associate Professor


Western Washington University
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Alia Khan
Alia Khan

Robin Kodner

Robin Kodner is an Associate Professor of Biology at Western Washington University (PhD Harvard University, BS University of Wisconsin-Madison). Robin has been studying algae for over 20 years and has studied algae biodiversity and population change over many time scales. Her passion for playing in both the mountains and ocean led Robin to focus her current research activities on field-based studies. She uses environmental-based genomic 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. Robin has also been an outdoor educator, in the mountains and on sailboats, using these environments as platforms for teaching basic sciences. This connection between science and adventure inspired the Living Snow Project, as a way to offer that broadly to the outdoor recreation community.

In addition to her biology research, Robin has been working on helping create equitable and inclusive spaces in science. She and her colleagues Regina Barber DeGraaff and Lina Dahlberg co-created and co-facilitate the ISMs (Inclusion and Social Mindfulness in STEM) workshops. They are now dipping their toes into social science research to learn about the impacts of faculty development on individual and institutional change.

Lab Website

Lab Notes

Nothing posted yet.

Additional Information

We have been running the Living Snow Project since 2017, and growing every year. We have many repeat volunteers. Stable funding, including support for student interns, will allow us to better engage volunteers, expanding our communication with them to directly share data and improve communication through our

social media and our website.

Project Backers

  • 10Backers
  • 9%Funded
  • $429Total Donations
  • $42.90Average Donation
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