Since 1999, atmospheric and snow chemists have shown that snow is a very active photochemical reactor that releases reactive gaseous species to the atmosphere including nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, aldehydes, halocarbons, carboxylic acids and mercury. Snow photochemistry therefore affects the formation of ozone, a potent greenhouse gas, and of aerosols, which affect the radiative budget of the planet and, therefore, its climate. In parallel, microbiologists have investigated microbes in snow, identified and quantified species, and sometimes discussed their nutrient supplies and metabolism, implicitly acknowledging that microbes could modify snow chemical composition. However, it is only in the past 10 years that a small number of studies have revealed that microbial activity in cold snow (< 0 °C, in the absence of significant amounts of liquid water) could lead to the release of nitrogen oxides, halocarbons, and mercury into the atmosphere. I argue here that microbes may have a significant effect on snow and atmospheric composition, especially during the polar night when photochemistry is shut off. Collaborative studies between microbiologists and snow and atmospheric chemists are needed to investigate this little-explored field.
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