Alia Khan

Associate Professor · she/her


Dr. Khan 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 albedo of the cryosphere. She combines optical remote sensing (by UAV and satellite) with ground-based biogeochemical analysis to document snow and ice melt in mountainous and polar regions. She completed her PhD in August 2016 in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Colorado – Boulder, while working at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, an interdisciplinary research institute focused on documenting environmental change in the polar regions. She then worked as a Postdoc at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, CO with a primary focus on water and snow chemistry in High Mountain Asia as part of a USAID funded project. Dr. Khan moved to Bellingham, Washington in Spring 2019 where she now leads the Western Washington Cryospheric Sciences Remote Sensing and Aquatic Biogeochemistry Lab. She is often looking for prospective masters students to join her group. Students have the opportunity to conduct on her active NSF and NASA-funded research grants. 

Related Resources

National Snow and Ice Data Center - Affiliate Research Scientist


Current funded projects

NSF-CAREER Award (Single-PI): Coastal Antarctic Snow Algae and Light Absorbing Particles: Snowmelt, Climate and Ecosystem Impacts

NSF - EAGER (Lead-PI): Arctic Observing Network - Autonomous retrieval of impurity-laden Arctic sea ice samples and hyperspectral surface properties through innovative robotics

NSF - RAPID (Single-PI): OPP # 2336072, Arctic System Sciences (Lead/Single-PI), RAPID: Impacts of Deposition from Smoke-derived Black Carbon on the Greenland Ice Sheet and the Greater Arctic Cryosphere due to Transport from Record Setting Canadian Wildfires

NASA Commercial SmallSat Data Acquisition (Lead-PI): Commercial Sensor Evaluation for Detection and Mapping of Snow Algae

NASA Interdisciplinary Research in Earth Sciences (Co-I): Quantifying Impact of Light Absorbing Aerosols upon Sea Ice in the Changing Arctic Climate

NSF Improving Undergraduate STEM Education, Education Human Research (Co-PI): ‘Polar Space and Place’: Using GIS and interactive environments to bring Polar science to the classroom 

Washington Water Research Grant (Single-PI) to study, ‘Do Snow Algae and Black Carbon Contribute to Surface Albedo Reduction of Snow and Glacier Surfaces in the Nooksack River’? 


Graduate Student Openings

I am recruiting 1 to 2 grad students for Fall 2024.  If interested, please send a one page statement of interest and CV. 


Research Tech/Associate Opening

I am looking for a full-time research tech or associate who can assist with analytical wet lab work, a variety of cryosphere fieldwork, manuscript writing and preparation, and processing of remote sensing images. If interested, please send a one page statement of interest and CV, as well as details highlighting your experience with cryosphere fieldwork, analytical chemistry or relevant lab work experience, QGIS/ArcGIS/ENVI for processing remote sensing imagery, scientific programming skills such as Python and Matlab, as well as experience using statistical computing platforms, such as R. 


PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Colorado - Boulder; MS in Environmental Studies (Biogeoscience), University of Colorado - Boulder; BSPH in Environmental Health Science, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill

Research Interests

Remote sensing, UAVs, cryosphere, biogeochemistry; hydrochemistry; black carbon and light absorbing aerosols; snow algae; snow/ice albedo; spectral geophysics; carbon cycling in polar and alpine environments; snow and glacial hydrology; climate impacts


*Designates student advisee. 

2023    Khan, A. L., Xian, P., and Schwarz, J.: Black carbon concentrations and modeled smoke deposition fluxes to the bare ice dark zone of the Greenland Ice Sheet, The Cryosphere,

2023    *Healy, S and Khan, A.L., “UAV remote detection of snow algae and the radiative forcing responses in the North Cascades.” Communications Earth and Environment,

2023   Cordero, R. R., Feron, S., Damiani, A., Llanillo, P. J., Carrasco, J., Khan, A. L., Bintanja, R., Ouyang, Z., and Casassa, G.: Signature of the stratosphere–troposphere coupling on recent record-breaking Antarctic sea-ice anomalies, The Cryosphere, 17, 4995–5006,

2023    Gold AU, Geraghty Ward EM, Marsh CL, Moon TA, Schoeneman SW, Khan A.L., et al. Measuring novice-expert sense of place for a far-away place: Implications for geoscience instruction. PLoS ONE 18(10): e0293003.

2023    Di Mauro, BiagioCappelletti, DavidMoroni, BeatriceMazzola, MauroGilardoni, StefaniaLuks, BartłomiejNawrot, AdamLewandowski, MarekDagsson Waldhauserova, PavlaMeinander, OutiWittmann, MonikaKaspari, SusanKhan, Alia.  Dust in Svalbard: local sources versus long-range transported dust (SVALDUST). In SESS report 2022 – The State of Environmental Science in Svalbard – an annual report (pp. 62-77). Svalbard Integrated Arctic Earth Observing System,

2022    Cordero, R. R., Sepúlveda, E., Feron, S., Damiani, A., Fernandoy, F., Neshyba, S., ... & Khan, A.L., Casassa, G. (2022). Black carbon footprint of human presence in Antarctica. Nature Communications13(1), 1-11,

2022    *Healy, S. and Khan, A.L. Mapping glacier ablation with a UAV in the North Cascades: A comparison of traditional approaches to glacier mass balance with structure from motion technology. Frontiers In Remote Sensing,

2022    Cordero, R. R., Sepúlveda, E., Feron, S., Damiani, A., Fernandoy, F., Neshyba, S., ... & Khan, A.L., Casassa, G. “Black Carbon in the Southern Andean Snowpack”,

2022    Veyssiere, G., Castellani, G., Wilkinson, J., Karcher, M., Hayward, A., Stroeve, J. C., Nicolaus M, Kim JH, Yang EJ, Valcic L, Kauker F., Khan, A.L, Rogers, I. Under-Ice Light Field in the Western Arctic Ocean during late Summer. Frontiers in Earth Science, 1337,

2021    Khan, A. L., Dierssen, H.M., Scambos, T.A., Höfer, J., and Cordero, R. R.: 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, The Cryosphere, 15, 133-148,

2021    Khan, A. L., Sokol, E. R., McKnight, D. M., Saunders, J. F., Hohner, A. K., & Summers, R. S. Phytoplankton Drivers of Dissolved Organic Material Production in Colorado  Reservoirs and the Formation of Disinfection By-Products. Frontiers in Environmental Science9, 259,

2021    Schulte, N., Khan, A.L., Smith, E., Zoumplis, A., Kaul, D., Allen, A., Adams, B., McKnight, D. Blowin’ in the wind: dispersal, structure, and metacommunity dynamics of aeolian diatoms in the McMurdo Sound region, Antarctica. Journal of Phycology,

2020    Khan A.L., Rittger, K., Xian, P., Katich, J., Armstrong, R., Kayastha, R., Dana, J., McKnight, D.; Yak-dung burning influences refractory black carbon concentrations in seasonal snow at lower elevations of the Dudh Koshi River Basin of Nepal,

2020    Lee, S., Stroeve, J., Tsamados, M., & Khan, A. L. Machine learning approaches to retrieve pan-Arctic melt ponds from visible satellite imagery. Remote Sensing of

2020    Diaz, M., Lyons, B., Welch, S., Welch, K., Khan, A.L., McKnight, D., Adams, B and Cary, C. Geochemistry of aeolian material from the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica: insights into Southern Hemisphere dust sources. Earth and Planetary Science Letters,

2019    Khan A.L., Klein, A., Katich, J., Xian, P. “Local emissions and regional wildfires influence refractory black carbon observations near Palmer Station, Antarctica”, Frontiers in Earth Science – Atmosphere Section,

2019    Bracegirdle, Thomas J., Colleoni, Florence, Abram, Nerilie J., Bertler, Nancy A.N., Dixon, Daniel A., England, Mark, Favier, Vincent, Fogwill, Chris J., Fyfe, John C., Goodwin, Ian, Goose, Hugues, Hobbs, Will, Jones, Julie M., Keller, Elizabeth D., Khan, Alia L., Phipps, Steven J., Raphael, Marilyn N., Russell, Joellen, Sime, Louise, Thomas, Elizabeth R., van den Broeke, Michiel R., Wainer, Ilana. (2019) Back to the Future: Using long-term observational and paleo-proxy reconstructions to improve model projections of Antarctic climate. Geosciences, 9, doi: 10.3390/geosciences906025

2018    Khan A.L., McMeeking, G., Schwarz, J.P, Xian, P., Welch, K., Lyons, B., McKnight, D. “Refractory black carbon measured in snow and air in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica and potential impacts of foehn winds”, Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres,

2018    Khan A.L., Bracegirdle, T., Russell, J. “Can We Crack the Climate Code of the Southern Polar Region?”, EOS, 99,

2018    Khan, A.L. “U.S. and China Assess Ecosystem Effects of a Fading Cryosphere”, EOS, 99,

2018    Armstrong, R.L., Rittger, K., Brodzik, M.J., Racoviteanu, A., Barrett, A.P., Singh Khalsa, S.J., Raup, B., Hill, A., Khan, A.L., Wilson, A., Kayastha, R.B., Fetterer, F., Armstrong, B. Reg Environ Change (2018),

2018    Diaz, M. A., Adams, B. J.,  Welch, K. A.,  Welch, S. A.,  Opiyo, S. O.,  Khan, A. L., McKnight, D., Cary, C., Lyons, B. Aeolian material transport and its role in landscape connectivity in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, 123, 3323-3337.

2017    Khan, A. L.Wagner, S, Jaffe, R., Xian, P., Williams, M., Armstrong, R., and McKnight, D., “Dissolved black carbon in the global cryosphere: Concentrations and chemical signatures”, Geophysical Research Letters, 44, doi:10.1002/2017GL073485

2017    Khan, A.L., Dierssen, H., Schwartz, J., Schmitt, C., Hermanson, M., Painter, T., McKnight, D, “Impacts of coal dust on the spectral reflectance of Arctic surface snow in Svalbard, Norway”, Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres, doi:10.1002/2016JD025757

2017    Stibal, M., J. E. Box, K. A. Cameron, P. L. Langen, M. L. Yallop, R. H. Mottram, A. L. Khan, N. P. Molotch, N. A. M. Chrismas, F. Calì Quaglia, D. Remias, C. J. P. P. Smeets, M. R. van den Broeke, J. C. Ryan, A. Hubbard, M. Tranter, D. van As, A. P., Ahlstrøm, Algae drive enhanced darkening of bare ice on the Greenland ice sheet”, Geophysical Research Letters, 44, doi:10.1002/2017GL075958.

2017    Gutt, J., Isla, E., Bertler, N., …Khan, A.L., …Wall, D., Wilson, N., Xavier, J., “Cross-disciplinarity in the advance of Antarctic ecosystem research”, Marine Genomics, doi: 10.1016/j.margen.2017.09.006

2016    Khan, A. L., R. Jaffe, Y. Ding, and D.M. McKnight, “Dissolved black carbon in Antarctic lakes: Chemical signatures of past and present sources”, Geophysical Research Letters, 43, doi: 10.1002/2016GL068609

2015    Mayewski, P.A., T. Bracegirdle, I. Goodwin, D. Schneider, N.A.N. Bertler, S. Birkel, A. Carleton, M. H. England, J-H. Kang, A. Khan, J. Russell, J. Turner and I. Veliconga, “Potential for Southern Hemisphere climate surprises”, Quaternary Science, 30, 391-395, 10.1002/jqs.2794

2012    Alia Lauren Khan, “Creative Adaptation: Bangladesh's Resilience to Flooding in a Changing Climate," in Climate Change Modelling For Local Adaptation In The Hindu Kush-Himalayan Region Armando Lamadrid, Ilan Kelman, eds. (Community, Environment and Disaster Risk Management, Volume 11), Emerald Group Publishing, 159 - 175, DOI: 10.1108/S2040-7262(2012)0000011015

2011    Brown, J., Stauber, C., Murphy, J., Khan, A., Mu, T., Elliott, M., Sobsey, M. “Ambient temperature incubation for the field detection of E. coli in drinking water”, Journal of Applied Microbiology, 110(4), 915-923. 10.1111/j.1365-2672.2011.04940.x

Teaching Schedule

Watershed Biogeochemistry Capstone Course (includes field trips to the local Nooksack River watershed)

Global Change in the Cryosphere (includes a field trip to Mt. Baker to conduct snow science, as well as geospatial analyses and data-analysis of cryospheric and polar data in the computer lab).