‘Watermelon Snow’ paints ‘cli-fi’ in astounding new colors
by Dan Bloom
William Liggett is using his retirement years to contemplate the risks involved in runaway global warming, and from his perspective in Colorado, he's worried. So worried that he sat down to write a cli-fi novel about global warming issues, not in a preach-to-the-choir way with all kinds of government stats and scientific charts but with the touch of a novelist writing for a wide audience of readers.
So he wrote "Watermelon Snow," a title that in itself is creative, and I had to look that term up in the dictionary to find out what it meant. It's a real term, and people in Colorado know it and have actually seen it. I've never seen it, so I asked Bill to telel me more about his just-published novel and how it came to be.
"People have often asked me where the idea for the novel came from, and it’s hard to point to any one thing because the idea evolved over many years," he said. "Since my college days, I had imagined I would write a novel one day, but it wasn’t until my retirement that I had the opportunity.
re supposed to write the book and then think of an appropriate title. But in my case the term 'watermelon snow' seemed intriguingly unfamiliar to many people, and therefore the title alone could convey some mystery."
" I also knew watermelon snow was real, having encountered it firsthand while hiking in the Rockies," he said. "The choice of setting came next. I had once worked on a glaciology research project for three months in Washington state on the Blue Glacier near the summit of Mt. Olympus -- a spectacular setting that left an indelible impression of me. All its potential dangers, especially the cliffs and crevasses, made it the perfect place for an adventure. Besides, few people have been to a glacier, let alone lived on one. While there, I managed to fall on some slippery rocks and step into a crevasse hidden from view but left unscathed."
"However, I had not seen a trace of the pink algae that gave rise to the nickname of watermelon snow while I was there. Only later, after some online research, did I learn that watermelon snow does grow there and has been on glaciers around the world. This revelation cleared the way for putting together the title of my novel with my desired setting."
"Some people might question why I hesitated. This was to be a novel, after all, so why does it matter if it is scientifically plausible? It mattered to me. I have always been enamored with the novels of the late Michael Crichton who built upon real science as he wove fictional thrillers from, for example, insects from the age of the dinosaurs trapped in amber. I wanted my novel to be based on science in the same way."
"I have also admired another writer, Robin Cook, for similar reasons, since he derives his plots from his field of medicine. I find it intellectually-rewarding to learn science and experience an adventure at the same time."
Liggett did some research for the novel, too, he said.
"Just as I have attempted to describe glacial research and biological science in ways that are credible to anyone familiar with those fields, I wanted my descriptions of settings to reflect my firsthand experience. So I took a four-day backpacking trip in 2015 through the Hoh Rainforest to Hoh Rainforest at the base of Mt. Olympus in Washington," he said.
As he was writing the novel, Bill had an epiphany of sorts about the rise of a new genre of literature.
"It wasn’t until I was far down the road of putting pen to paper, that I discovered that this story about the impact of global warming on the world’s glaciers and on the lives of its characters fell into a new genre of fiction that's been dubbed cli-fi,'' he said.
''Watermelon Snow" is a contemporary cli-fi novel painted with extraordinary colors. Read it for the book cover photo alone!
Bill adds an answer to this question that many readers have: ''What Is Watermelon Snow?''
''When I was a teenager hiking above timberline with a friend in the mountains of my home state of Colorado, I came across a large patch of snow that had survived the summer in an area of broken scree rocks and tundra. Curious swaths of pink color ran across the surface. My friend told me, “Scoop some up. Sniff it.” When I did, I shouted, “Watermelon!” He then said, “Better not taste it—could upset your stomach.”
''Watermelon snow, sometimes called blood snow, is actually a microorganism or alga (scientific name: ''Chlamydomonas nivalis'') that forms on the surface of snow exposed to the elements for long periods. The pinkish color is a pigment the algae produce to help protect them from exposure to the sun’s UV radiation.
''When I ask people if they’ve ever heard of watermelon snow, most say no. The phenomenon is still relatively obscure — not surprising because it forms under harsh conditions in remote places. Most reporters introducing it to the public allude only to the color of the algae as the source of its name, failing to mention its distinctive watermelon aroma.
''Recently, due to rising concerns about global warming, watermelon snow has made headlines. Studies have shown that its pink pigment lowers the reflectivity of the snow, known as “albedo,” causing it to absorb more of the sun’s radiation. The result — faster snowmelt — is disturbing given the accelerating loss of ice around the world. Researchers recommend adding watermelon snow to their models predicting future rates of melting.
''Watermelon snow has other characteristics probably even less well known. Pharmaceutical researchers have investigated the algae for its antioxidant and other beneficial properties. The cosmetic industry has done studies on what they call snow algae extract for improving the health of the skin.
''So, watermelon snow is a mixed blessing concerning to environmentalists while promising to others. In either case, I predict we’ll be hearing more about it as scientists work to spread the word about climate change.
''Have you ever heard of watermelon snow? If so, what was the context? Have you encountered watermelon snow firsthand?''