Articles | Volume 6, issue 5
The Cryosphere, 6, 1141–1155, 2012
The Cryosphere, 6, 1141–1155, 2012

Research article 16 Oct 2012

Research article | 16 Oct 2012

Vapor flux and recrystallization during dry snow metamorphism under a steady temperature gradient as observed by time-lapse micro-tomography

B. R. Pinzer1,*, M. Schneebeli1, and T. U. Kaempfer1,** B. R. Pinzer et al.
  • 1WSL-Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, Davos Dorf, Switzerland
  • *now at: Swiss Light Source, Paul Scherrer Institut, Villigen, Switzerland
  • **now at: AF-Consult Switzerland Ltd, Baden, Switzerland

Abstract. Dry snow metamorphism under an external temperature gradient is the most common type of recrystallization of snow on the ground. The changes in snow microstructure modify the physical properties of snow, and therefore an understanding of this process is essential for many disciplines, from modeling the effects of snow on climate to assessing avalanche risk. We directly imaged the microstructural changes in snow during temperature gradient metamorphism (TGM) under a constant gradient of 50 K m−1, using in situ time-lapse X-ray micro-tomography. This novel and non-destructive technique directly reveals the amount of ice that sublimates and is deposited during metamorphism, in addition to the exact locations of these phase changes. We calculated the average time that an ice volume stayed in place before it sublimated and found a characteristic residence time of 2–3 days. This means that most of the ice changes its phase from solid to vapor and back many times in a seasonal snowpack where similar temperature conditions can be found. Consistent with such a short timescale, we observed a mass turnover of up to 60% of the total ice mass per day. The concept of hand-to-hand transport for the water vapor flux describes the observed changes very well. However, we did not find evidence for a macroscopic vapor diffusion enhancement. The picture of {temperature gradient metamorphism} produced by directly observing the changing microstructure sheds light on the micro-physical processes and could help to improve models that predict the physical properties of snow.