Alia Khan

Postdoctoral Research Associate

About Alia

Alia Khan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Western Washington University. She has been working in polar and high mountain regions for over a decade to quantify the impacts of black carbon and other light absorbing particles on the surface of the cryosphere. She combines environmental chemistry and optical remote sensing (by UAV and satellite) to document snow and ice melt in mountainous and polar regions. Her research explores the impact of snow algae growth and aerosol deposition, including the resulting impacts on spectral albedo, melt, and water quality. After working as a postdoc at NSIDC on a USAID-funded project to quantify snow and ice melt in high Asia, she moved to Bellingham, Washington. She now leads the Western Washington Cryosphere Studies and Aquatic Biogeochemistry Lab. Khan is often looking for master of science students to join her group.  Students will have the opportunity to conduct intensive summer fieldwork on the local glaciated stratovolcanoes.


Light-absorbing particles in the cryosphere, black carbon, snow algae, snow and glacial hydrology, spectral geophysics, surface optical properties, aquatic biogeochemistry

Current Research

Commercial Sensor Evaluation for Detection and Mapping of Snow Algae: Snow algae are common in alpine snowpacks in the global cryosphere. The team’s recent research shows that snow algae are drivers of snowmelt due to their absorption of solar radiation in the visible wavelengths, which leads to a significant reduction in snow albedo. However, snow algae are ephemeral and often occur in small patches. This research evaluates high resolution commercial satellite data (CSD) for detection and mapping of snow algae through comparison of in situ snow samples collected for laboratory analysis. Research uses the Pacific Northwest cryosphere to develop novel algorithms based on in situ snow sample collection. An additional objective is to evaluate CSD products for their utility in snow algae detection and mapping. After collecting snow samples from the field, the team analyzes them in the lab and uses the data to validate satellite-derived maps of colored snow algae from space. Source of support: NASA


B.S.P.H., University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, 2009
M.S., University of Colorado Boulder, 2012
Ph.D., University of Colorado Boulder, 2016