Research Topic

Ice and Snow Algae

About this Research Topic

This Research Topic aims at collecting original research publications, reviews, and opinion papers on the biodiversity, life cycles, (eco)physiology, developmental stages, and critical roles played by algae in ice (sea ice, glaciers, etc.) and snow; in the Arctic, the Antarctic, and in high elevation mountain areas, in the context of climate change.

In rapidly changing natural environments, where snow or ice appears in cold seasons and melts when the temperature increases, photosynthetic organisms play a key role in colonizing these thermally labile habitats and creating conditions for complex communities to develop. Algae do not only cope with low temperatures, but they can also be subjected to high UV irradiance and to a variety of other abiotic stresses. Fatty acid desaturation, required to ensure membrane fluidity, is one of the markers of acclimation and adaptation to cold conditions. Algae can accumulate pigments, such as the carotenoid astaxanthin, leading to the development of so-called orange or red snows. The presence of pigmented microalgae in snow and ice lowers the albedo and accelerates melting. Algae are therefore both ‘markers’ (positively impacted by CO2 increase) and ‘actors’ (positively acting on ice and snowmelt) of climate change. Research on ice and snow algae is thus essential to address the impact of climate change in polar and mountain environments.

Our knowledge of organisms often considered as psychrophilic, based on their tolerance to low temperatures, is fragmented and relies on studies concentrated in some high latitude and high-altitude sites. Some algae are supposed to specifically propagate in the snow (so-called ‘snow algae’) but their ecophysiological preferences and diversity are often unknown. Some are better known, such as the red snow alga Chlamydomonas nivalis (now placed in the genus Sanguina), but an increasing number of species are being detected and documented. In snow and glacier environments, green algae seem to be prominent, whereas diatoms, dinoflagellates, etc., are commonly encountered in sea ice. Small niches like cryoconite holes are ecosystems for cold-adapted microorganisms on the surface of glaciers. Past and present connectivity between high altitude and high latitude ice/snow habitats is a puzzling and fascinating question in regards to the algal evolution/diversification. It is still unclear if this connectivity comes from direct connections during the last Glacial Period, interrupted today, or from active airborne spores transported over long distances. The study of ice and snow algae is therefore highly multidisciplinary and still in its infancy and a growing discipline.

Contributions on the following subjects are welcome:
• Exploration of algae and related communities developing in sea ice, snow, glaciers, etc.
• Biodiversity of ice and snow algae (green algae, diatoms, chrysophytes, dinoflagellates, cyanobacteria, etc.)
• Environmental DNA in polar and mountain areas
• Collection of ice and snow algae
• Genomics of ice and snow algae
• Ecophysiology, physiology, biology, development of ice and snow algae
• Cold acclimation and adaptation
• Carotenoid (astaxanthin) and glycerolipid metabolism at low temperature
• Imaging of ice and snow algal cells
• Ecological role of ice and snow algae
• Physicochemical impact of algae on ice and snow
• Abiotic and biotic interactions

Contributors are welcome to submit Original Research, Methods, and Review articles in all these areas.

Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Image credits: Photo taken by Christopher Boon


Keywords: ice algae, snow algae, red snow, glaciers, ice sheet, high elevation, mountain, cyanobacteria, green algae, diatoms, chrysophytes, dinoflagellate, psychrophilic organisms, low temperature adaptation, low temperature acclimation, Chlamydomonas nivalis, astaxanthin, carotenoids, fatty acid desaturation, ice and snow alga collections, ice and snow algae genomes, high UV light response


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

This Research Topic aims at collecting original research publications, reviews, and opinion papers on the biodiversity, life cycles, (eco)physiology, developmental stages, and critical roles played by algae in ice (sea ice, glaciers, etc.) and snow; in the Arctic, the Antarctic, and in high elevation mountain areas, in the context of climate change.

In rapidly changing natural environments, where snow or ice appears in cold seasons and melts when the temperature increases, photosynthetic organisms play a key role in colonizing these thermally labile habitats and creating conditions for complex communities to develop. Algae do not only cope with low temperatures, but they can also be subjected to high UV irradiance and to a variety of other abiotic stresses. Fatty acid desaturation, required to ensure membrane fluidity, is one of the markers of acclimation and adaptation to cold conditions. Algae can accumulate pigments, such as the carotenoid astaxanthin, leading to the development of so-called orange or red snows. The presence of pigmented microalgae in snow and ice lowers the albedo and accelerates melting. Algae are therefore both ‘markers’ (positively impacted by CO2 increase) and ‘actors’ (positively acting on ice and snowmelt) of climate change. Research on ice and snow algae is thus essential to address the impact of climate change in polar and mountain environments.

Our knowledge of organisms often considered as psychrophilic, based on their tolerance to low temperatures, is fragmented and relies on studies concentrated in some high latitude and high-altitude sites. Some algae are supposed to specifically propagate in the snow (so-called ‘snow algae’) but their ecophysiological preferences and diversity are often unknown. Some are better known, such as the red snow alga Chlamydomonas nivalis (now placed in the genus Sanguina), but an increasing number of species are being detected and documented. In snow and glacier environments, green algae seem to be prominent, whereas diatoms, dinoflagellates, etc., are commonly encountered in sea ice. Small niches like cryoconite holes are ecosystems for cold-adapted microorganisms on the surface of glaciers. Past and present connectivity between high altitude and high latitude ice/snow habitats is a puzzling and fascinating question in regards to the algal evolution/diversification. It is still unclear if this connectivity comes from direct connections during the last Glacial Period, interrupted today, or from active airborne spores transported over long distances. The study of ice and snow algae is therefore highly multidisciplinary and still in its infancy and a growing discipline.

Contributions on the following subjects are welcome:
• Exploration of algae and related communities developing in sea ice, snow, glaciers, etc.
• Biodiversity of ice and snow algae (green algae, diatoms, chrysophytes, dinoflagellates, cyanobacteria, etc.)
• Environmental DNA in polar and mountain areas
• Collection of ice and snow algae
• Genomics of ice and snow algae
• Ecophysiology, physiology, biology, development of ice and snow algae
• Cold acclimation and adaptation
• Carotenoid (astaxanthin) and glycerolipid metabolism at low temperature
• Imaging of ice and snow algal cells
• Ecological role of ice and snow algae
• Physicochemical impact of algae on ice and snow
• Abiotic and biotic interactions

Contributors are welcome to submit Original Research, Methods, and Review articles in all these areas.

Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Image credits: Photo taken by Christopher Boon


Keywords: ice algae, snow algae, red snow, glaciers, ice sheet, high elevation, mountain, cyanobacteria, green algae, diatoms, chrysophytes, dinoflagellate, psychrophilic organisms, low temperature adaptation, low temperature acclimation, Chlamydomonas nivalis, astaxanthin, carotenoids, fatty acid desaturation, ice and snow alga collections, ice and snow algae genomes, high UV light response


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

30 September 2020 Abstract
31 January 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

30 September 2020 Abstract
31 January 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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