Seasonal development and radiative forcing of red snow algal blooms on two glaciers in British Columbia, Canada, summer 2020

Casey B. Engstrom, Scott N. Williamson, John A. Gamon, Lynne M. Quarmby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Red snow algal blooms reduce albedo and increase snowmelt, but little is known of their extent, duration, and radiative forcing. We calibrated an established index by comparing snow algal field spectroradiometer measurements with direct counts of algal cell abundance in British Columbia, Canada. We applied the field calibrated index to Sentinel-2, Landsat-8, and MODIS/Terra images to monitor snow algae on the Vowell and Catamount Glaciers (Purcells, British Columbia) in summer 2020. The maximum extent of snow algal bloom cover was 1.4 and 2.0 km2 respectively, about one third of the total surface area of the two glaciers, making these among the largest contiguous bloom areas yet reported. Blooms were first detected following the onset of above-freezing temperatures in early July and persisted for about two months. Algal abundance increased through July, after which the red snow algal bloom area decreased due to snow cover loss. At their peak in late July the blooms reduced albedo by 0.04 ± 0.01 on average. Snow algae caused an additional 5.25 ± 1.0 × 107 J/m2 of solar energy to be absorbed by the snowpack in July–August, which is enough energy to melt 31.5 cm of snow. This is equivalent to an average snow algal radiative forcing of 8.25 ± 1.6 W/m2 through July and August. Our results suggest that the extent, duration, and radiative forcing of snow algal blooms are sufficient to enhance glacial melt rates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number113164
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
StatePublished - Oct 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Albedo
  • Biomass
  • Carbon
  • Glacier
  • Google earth engine
  • Ground validation
  • Landsat-8
  • Nitrogen
  • Radiative forcing
  • Radiometry
  • Reference spectra
  • Remote sensing
  • Sanguina
  • Sentinel-2
  • Snow algae
  • Watermelon snow

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Geology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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