Remote Estimates of Ice Algae Biomass and Their Response to Environmental Conditions during Spring Melt


  • Karley Campbell
  • Christopher J. Mundy
  • David G. Barber
  • Michel Gosselin



ice algae, biomass, sea ice, transmitted irradiance, Arctic, algal blooms


In this study, we support previous work showing that a normalized difference index (NDI) using two spectral bands of transmitted irradiance (478 and 490 nm) can be used as a non-invasive method to estimate sea ice chlorophyll a (chl a) following a simple calibration to the local region. Application of this method during the spring bloom period (9 May to 26 June) provided the first non-invasive time series dataset used to monitor changes in bottom ice chl a concentration, an index of algal biomass, at a single point location. The transmitted irradiance dataset was collected on landfast first-year sea ice of Allen Bay, Nunavut, in 2011, along with the physical variables thought to affect chl a accumulation and loss at the ice bottom. Time series biomass calculated using the NDI technique adhered well to core based biomass estimates although, chl a values remained low throughout the bloom, reaching a maximum of 27.6 mg m-2 at the end of May. It is likely that warming of the bottom ice contributed to loss of chl a through its positive influence on brine drainage and ice melt. Chl a content in the bottom ice was also significantly affected by a storm event on 10 June, which caused extensive surface melt and a rapid increase in the magnitude of transmitted irradiance. Furthermore, the velocity of current, measured below the ice at the end of a spring neap-tidal cycle, was negatively associated with ice algae chl a biomass (the stronger the current, the less biomass). The NDI method to remotely estimate ice algal biomass proved useful for application in our time series process study, providing a way to assess the effects of changes to the sea ice environment on the biomass of a single population of ice algae.