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Algae in red snow. Image: AlpAlga

High in the French Alps, blooms of microalgae color the snow they live in red each spring. A team of researchers this week published a study detailing some of the algae species found in these streaks of "glacier blood."

The big picture: Very little is known about snow algae — a link in the mountain ecosystem's food web — and how their blooms may be affected by rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and climate change.

  • "The bloom is a sign of an imbalance that promotes one species ... and it is an actor that accelerates snow melting" by reducing the amount of sunlight it reflects, says Eric Maréchal of the Laboratory of Cellular and Plant Physiology in Grenoble, France, and a member of the AlpAlga consortium of researchers studying microalgae in the mountains.
  • Sanguina algae, which previous research found were responsible for the red coloring of snow, are a green algae that can be triggered to produce carotenoids — red and orange pigments that Maréchal says may protect the algae from intense sunlight at high elevations.

What they found: The researchers collected 158 soil samples from holes dug between 4,100 feet and 9,646 feet above sea level in five locations in the French Alps.

  • By analyzing DNA left in the soil by algae that died after the snow melted, they found 50 species of microalgae — and a pattern for their distribution.
  • Sanguina algae were found only above 6,560 feet, whereas other species were limited to lower elevations.

What's next: The researchers are headed back to the mountains later this month to study the microalgae present at different snow depths.

  • They've collected 15 distinct species from the snow so far and plan to gather more to grow in the lab to try to understand what triggers the algae to produce carotenoids.
  • The research aims to understand what's driving changes in the blooms and whether they might be used as a marker for the level of intensity of global warming, Maréchal says.
  • Citizen scientists can help collect and observe red snow for the Living Snow Project, which is studying the microalgae in the mountains of the American West.

"We see snow as only water. We see it is as inert," Maréchal says.

  • But the new research is "a vivid demonstration that the snow is alive."

Go deeper

Chris Cuomo accuser: On-air "hypocrisy" spurred report

Journalist Chris Cuomo. Photo: Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images

A woman who accused fired CNN journalist Chris Cuomo of sexual misconduct said Sunday she decided to come forward after learning of his comments about women who made similar accusations about his brother. He denies her allegations.

Why it matters: Her attorney Debra Katz said in a statement that she heard "the hypocrisy" of his on-air words about his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and was "disgusted by his efforts to try to discredit these women," so "retained counsel to report his serious sexual misconduct against her to CNN."

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director says number of U.S. Omicron cases "likely to rise" — Two years of COVID-19 — Prior coronavirus infections may not protect well against Omicron.
  2. Vaccines: Data demonstrates most-vaccinated counties less vulnerable to worst of COVID — Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating world — Omicron fuels the case for COVID boosters.
  3. Politics: Nevada to impose insurance surcharge on unvaccinated state workers — New Jersey GOP lawmakers defy statehouse COVID policy — Oklahoma sues Biden administration over Pentagon vaccine mandate.
  4. World: Vaccine mandates lose steam in the U.S. while Europe doubles downWHO: Delta health measures help fight Omicron — COVID cases surge in South Africa in sign Omicron wave is coming.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.

Vulnerable Democrats: Less Trump talk

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Vulnerable House Democrats are convinced they need to talk less about the man who helped them get elected: President Trump.

Why it matters: Democrats are privately concerned nationalizing the 2022 mid-terms with emotionally-charged issues — from Critical Race Theory to Donald Trump's role in the Jan. 6 insurrection — will hamstring their ability to sell the local benefits of President Biden's Build Back Better agenda.