Land & Environment

Snow Algae: USU Assistant Professor Investigating How Algal Blooms Impact Mountain Snowpack

By Lael Gilbert |

Video by Taylor Emerson, Digital Journalist, University Marketing & Communications

Intensely brilliant and starkly white, freshly fallen snow is the most reflective natural surface on earth — normally. A clean snowpack reflects back most of the sun’s energy and allows snowpack to persist longer into spring and summer seasons. But snowpack levels in the West have taken a hit over the last few decades. They lose their reflectiveness when airborne dust settles onto their surface, or when dark-red blooms of snow algae grow and absorb solar energy. These darkening agents are changing how snow accumulates, persists and melts each season, with implications for hydropower, biodiversity, irrigation and drinking water.

Scott Hotaling, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Watershed Sciences in the Quinney College of Natural Resources, is exploring how the watermelon-tinted blooms of snow algae impact mountain snowpack — where they come from, what triggers a bloom, and what factors influence the size, scale and magnitude of snow algal blooms.


Lael Gilbert
Public Relations Specialist
Quinney College of Natural Resources


Scott Hotaling
Assistant Professor
Watershed Sciences

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