Spectral characterization, radiative forcing and pigment content of coastal Antarctic snow algae: Approaches to spectrally discriminate red and green communities and their impact on snowmelt

Alia L. Khan, Heidi M. Dierssen, Ted A. Scambos, JUAN HOFER, Raul R. Cordero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Here, we present radiative forcing (RF) estimates by snow algae in the Antarctic Peninsula (AP) region from multi-year measurements of solar radiation and groundbased hyperspectral characterization of red and green snow algae collected during a brief field expedition in austral summer 2018. Our analysis includes pigment content from samples at three bloom sites. Algal biomass in the snow and albedo reduction are well-correlated across the visible spectrum. Relative to clean snow, visibly green patches reduce snow albedo by 40% and red patches by 20 %. However, red communities absorb considerably more light per milligram of pigment compared to green communities, particularly in green wavelengths. Based on our study results, it should be possible to differentiate red and green algae using Sentinel-2 bands in blue, green and red wavelengths. Instantaneous RF averages were double for green (180Wm2) vs. red communities (88Wm2), with a maximum of 228Wm2. Based on multi-year solar radiation measurements at Palmer Station, this translated to a mean daily RF of 26Wm2 (green) and 13Wm2 (red) during peak growing season on par with midlatitude dust attributions capable of advancing snowmelt. This results in 2522m3 of snow melted by green-colored algae and 1218m3 of snow melted by red-colored algae annually over the summer, suggesting snow algae play a significant role in snowmelt in the AP regions where they occur. We suggest impacts of RF by snow algae on snowmelt be accounted for in future estimates of Antarctic ice-free expansion in the AP region.

Original languageEnglish
Article number133
Pages (from-to)133-148
Number of pages16
JournalCryosphere
Volume15
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 13 Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes

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