OSA's Digital Library

Journal of the Optical Society of America

Journal of the Optical Society of America

  • Vol. 73, Iss. 12 — Dec. 1, 1983
  • pp: 1646–1652

Colors of snow, frozen waterfalls, and icebergs

Craig F. Bohren  »View Author Affiliations

JOSA, Vol. 73, Issue 12, pp. 1646-1652 (1983)

View Full Text Article

Acrobat PDF (2630 KB)

Browse Journals / Lookup Meetings

Browse by Journal and Year


Lookup Conference Papers

Close Browse Journals / Lookup Meetings

Article Tools



Snow presents more than just a uniformly white face. Beneath its surface a vivid blueness, the purity of which exceeds that of the bluest sky, may be seen. This subnivean blue light results from preferential absorption of red light by ice; multiple scattering by ice grains, which is not spectrally selective, merely serves to increase the path length that photons travel before reaching a given depth. Although snow is usually white on reflection, bubbly ice, which can be found in frozen waterfalls and icebergs, may not be. To a first approximation, bubbly ice is equivalent to snow with an effective grain size that increases with decreasing bubble volume fraction. Ice grains in snow are too small to give it a spectrally selective albedo, but the much larger effective grain sizes of bubbly ice can give it bluish-green hues of low purity on reflection.

© 1983 Optical Society of America

Craig F. Bohren, "Colors of snow, frozen waterfalls, and icebergs," J. Opt. Soc. Am. 73, 1646-1652 (1983)

Sort:  Author  |  Year  |  Journal  |  Reset


  1. S. G. Warren, "Optical properties of snow," Rev. Geophys. Space Phys. 20, 67–89 (1982).
  2. C. F. Bohren and B. R. Barkstrom, "Theory of the optical properties of snow," J. Geophys. Res. 79, 4527–4535 (1974).
  3. H. C. van de Hulst, Multiple Light Scattering (Academic, New York, 1980), Vol. II, pp. 703–705.
  4. S. Twomey and C. F. Bohren, "Simple approximations for calculations of absorption in clouds," J. Atmos. Sci. 37, 2086–2094 (1980).
  5. C. F. Bohren and D. R. Huffman, Absorption and Scattering of Light by Small Particles (Wiley-Interscience, New York, 1983), pp. 166–171.
  6. C. F. Bohren and T. J. Nevitt, "Absorption by a sphere: a simple approximation," Appl. Opt. 22, 774–775 (1983).
  7. H. C. van de Hulst, "The spectrum of the anisotropic transfer equation," Astron. Astrophys. 9, 366–373 (1970).
  8. H. C. van de Hulst, "High-order scattering in diffuse reflection from a semi-infinite atmosphere," Astron. Astrophys. 9, 374–379 (1970).
  9. G. H. Liljequist, "Energy exchange of an Antarctic snow-field, short-wave radiation (Maudheim 71° 03′ S, 10° 56′ W)," in Norwegian—British—Swedish Antarctic Expedition, 1949–52, Scientific Results (Norsk Polarinstitutt, Oslo, Norway, 1956), Vol. 2, Sec. 1A.
  10. T. C. Grenfell and D. K. Perovich, "Radiation absorption coef-ficients of polycrystalline ice from 400–1400 nm," J. Geophys. Res. 86, 7447–7450 (1981).
  11. C. F. Bohren and R. L. Beschta, "Snowpack albedo and snow density," Cold Reg. Sci. Technol. 1, 47–50 (1979).
  12. F. W. Billmeyer and M. Saltzman, Principles of Color Technology, 2nd ed. (Wiley-Interscience, New York, 1981), pp. 25–66.
  13. W. D. Bancroft, "The color of water," J. Franklin Inst. 187, 249–271, 459–485 (1919).
  14. C. V. Raman, "Thermal opalescence in crystals and the colour of ice in glaciers," Nature 111, 13–14 (1923).
  15. I am almost embarrassed to point out that blue light in snow holes is not reflected skylight; but this contention has been hurled at me, so I am compelled to address it. In refutation, I note that the picture shown in Plate VII was taken with a camera completely blocking the hole from direct illumination by sunlight or skylight, and I note further that immediately after taking this picture I photographed the sky overhead (not shown): it was somewhat overcast and gray, not deep blue like the hole.
  16. H. C. van de Hulst, "Diffuse reflection and transmission by a very thick plane-parallel atmosphere with isotropic scattering," Icarus 3, 336–341 (1964).
  17. T. C. Grenfell and G. A. Maykut, "The optical properties of ice and snow in the Arctic Basin," J. Glaciol. 18, 445–463 (1977).
  18. W. Stegner, On a Darkling Plain (Harcourt Brace, New York, 1939).
  19. R. M. Ballantyne, Hudson's Bay: Or Every-Day Life in the Wilds of North America (Phillips, Sampson, Boston, Mass., 1859).

Cited By

Alert me when this paper is cited

OSA is able to provide readers links to articles that cite this paper by participating in CrossRef's Cited-By Linking service. CrossRef includes content from more than 3000 publishers and societies. In addition to listing OSA journal articles that cite this paper, citing articles from other participating publishers will also be listed.

« Previous Article  |  Next Article »

OSA is a member of CrossRef.

CrossCheck Deposited