The snow cover of Arctic sea ice has recently decreased, and climate models forecast that this will continue and even increase in future. We therefore tested the effect of snow cover on the optical properties of sea ice and the biomass, photobiology, and species composition of sea ice algae at Kangerlussuaq, West Greenland, during March 2011, using a snow-clearance experiment. Sea ice algae in areas cleared of snow was compared with control areas, using imaging variable fluorescence of photosystem II in intact, unthawed ice sections. The study coincided with the onset of spring growth of ice algae, mainly an increase in two pennate diatoms (Achnanthes taeniata and Navicula directa), as temperature increased and ice thickness and brine volume stabilized. The increase in biomass was accompanied by an increase in minimum variable fluorescence (F o) and the maximum quantum yield of PSII (F v /F m) and filling of brine channels with fluorescing cells. In contrast, in the minus snow area, PAR transmittance increased sixfold and there was an exponential decrease in chl-a and no increase in F o, and the area of fluorescing biomass declined to become undetectable. This study suggests that the onset of the spring bloom is predominantly due to temperature effects on brine channel volume, and that the algal decline after snow removal was primarily due to emigration rather than photodamage.