• Watermelon snow on Mount Garibaldi

    Watermelon snow below the toe of the Lava Glacier on Mount Garibaldi, B.C. (Photo: Casey Engstrom)

Don’t worry — the scarlet patches staining a snow-covered slope on British Columbia’s Mount Garibaldi shown in the picture above aren’t evidence of some terrifically violent act of bloodletting (although you’d be forgiven for thinking they were).

Rather, they’re an example of a phenomenon known as watermelon snow, which occurs when blooms of microscopic algae form on Canada’s alpine snowfields in summer.

The presence of watermelon snow — and what it means for global climate cycles, local water cycles and mountain environments — is just one of the 12 topics covered in the Alpine Club of Canada’s 2019 State of the Mountains Report, which the club published on May 25 at its annual general meeting in Canmore, Alta.

The 44-page report makes for compelling reading, often using climate change as a lens through which to examine subjects such as watermelon snow, wildfires, sustainable mountain tourism and the large mammals that live in alpine environments.

“Mountains provide critical natural and economic resources like water, biodiversity, forests and recreational opportunities. They’re also home for many people living in small and remote communities,” note co-editors Zac Robinson, Lael Parrot and David Hik in the report’s foreword. “But both local and global changes influence these places in ways that are still not well understood. The ACC’s State of the Mountains Report is a contribution to compiling and sharing the best available knowledge about Canada’s mountains, from coast to coast to coast.”

The report is available online, but here's an index of some of its facts, figures and phrases to get you started.

Wildfires

2.5 million
The record-breaking number of hectares of grasslands and forests that wildfires burned in British Columbia in the summers of 2017 and 2018.

85
The number of maximum temperature records set in British Columbia in summer 2017.

Greater than 95 per cent
The probability that this record heat was due to human factors, according to research published in 2018 by Canadian climate experts.

The most hazardous in the world
The way the report describes the air quality in Western Canada during several days in August 2018, when fires in northwestern British Columbia burned more than 575,000 hectares of sub-boreal forest.

Mountain mammals

Ecological citadels
How the report refers to mountain environments vis-as-vis their importance to large North American mammals such as moose, bears, cougars, caribou and wolverines.

A caribou in Jasper National Park. (Photo: Layla Neufeld)

The real canary in the coalmine
How the report describes the wolverine in terms of the effect that landscape change is having on large mammals in mountain environments.

Alarmingly sparse
How the report described the presence of wolverines outside the borders of Banff and Jasper national parks.

The Magnificent Seven
The nickname for the seven wolverines scientists found in the entirety of Alberta’s Kananaskis Country during research in the 2010s.  

4,211
The size in square kilometres of Kananaskis Country.

Mountain tourism sustainability

2010
The year the whitebark pine tree — which in Canada is found only at high elevations in the mountains of British Columbia and Alberta — was listed as an endangered species in Canada.

2013
The year Lake Louise Ski Resort, located in Banff National Park, cut down 38 whitebark pines.

7,000
The number of whitebark pine trees the resort later identified and tagged, with the help of consultants and Parks Canada.

Full-time
The employment status of the environmental manager the resort hired after being fined for cutting down the trees.

$2.1 million
The amount of that fine.

Step up and engage proactively in environmentally-minded management programs that are meaningful and multi-faceted
What the report says tourism operators must do if they wish for long-term relationships with the mountain environments that serve as essential attractants for their clients.

$1.373 billion
The estimated amount of ski area revenue generated in Canada in 2016-17, according to the Canadian Ski Council.

$794 million
The total revenue from winter operations in Western Canadian ski areas in 2016-17, according to the Canadian Ski Council.

4
The number of years in a row that visitation to Parks Canada’s mountain parks (Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Waterton Lakes, Mount Revelstoke and Glacier national parks) has increased since the 2013-14 season, when attendance was 7,334,558.

9,207,562
The number of visitors to Parks Canada’s mountain parks in 2017-18.

Watermelon snow

More than a third
The proportion of the surface of a 1,900-square-kilometre icefield in Alaska that was covered by blooms of microscopic red algae that create the phenomenon known as watermelon snow.

1/100th
The diameter in millimetres of the alga that form the blooms.

Astaxanthin
The name of the pigment that makes the algae red.

Related: Climate change is transforming Canada’s mountains