Microscale photographs were taken of the ice bottom to examine linkages of algal chlorophyll a (chl a) biomass distribution with bottom ice features in thick Arctic first-year sea ice during a spring field program which took place from May 5 to 21, 2003. The photographic technique developed in this paper has resulted in the first in situ observations of microscale variability in bottom ice algae distribution in Arctic first-year sea ice in relation to ice morphology. Observations of brine channel diameter (1.65–2.68 mm) and number density (5.33–10.35 per 100 cm2) showed that the number of these channels at the bottom of thick first-year sea ice may be greater than previously measured on extracted ice samples. A variogram analysis showed that over areas of low chl a biomass (≤20.7 mg chl a m−2), patchiness in bottom ice chl a biomass was at the scale of brine layer spacing and small brine channels (∼1–3 mm). Over areas of high chl a biomass (≥34.6 mg chl a m−2), patchiness in biomass was related to the spacing of larger brine channels on the ice bottom (∼10–26 mm). Brine layers and channels are thought to provide microscale maxima of light, nutrient replenishment and space availability which would explain the small scale patchiness over areas of low algal biomass. However, ice melt and erosion near brine channels may play a more important role in areas with high algal biomass and low snow cover.