Articles | Volume 7, issue 6
Research article
18 Dec 2013
Research article |  | 18 Dec 2013

Seasonal evolution of snow permeability under equi-temperature and temperature-gradient conditions

F. Domine, S. Morin, E. Brun, M. Lafaysse, and C. M. Carmagnola

Abstract. The permeability (K) of snow to air flow affects the transfer of energy, water vapor and chemical species between the snow and the atmosphere. Yet today little is known about the temporal evolution of snow permeability as a function of metamorphic regime. Furthermore, our ability to simulate snow permeability over the seasonal evolution of a snowpack has not been tested. Here we have measured the evolution of snow permeability in a subarctic snowpack subject to high temperature-gradient (TG) metamorphism. We have also measured the evolution of the same snowpack deposited over tables so that it evolved in the equi-temperature (ET) regime. Permeability varies in the range 31 × 10−10 (ET regime) to 650 × 10−10 m2 (TG regime). Permeability increases over time in TG conditions and decreases under ET conditions. Using measurements of density ρ and of specific surface area (SSA), from which the equivalent sphere radius r is determined, we show that the equation linking SSA, density ρ and permeability, K = 3.0 r2 e(−0.013 ρ) (with K in m2, r in m and ρ in kg m−3) obtained in a previous study adequately predicts permeability values. The detailed snowpack model Crocus is used to simulate the physical properties of the TG and ET snowpacks. For the most part, all variables are well reproduced. Simulated permeabilities are up to a factor of two greater than measurements for depth hoar layers, which we attribute to snow microstructure and its aerodynamic properties. Finally, the large difference in permeabilities between ET and TG metamorphic regimes will impact atmosphere-snow energy and mass exchanges. These effects deserve consideration in predicting the effect of climate change on snow properties and snow–atmosphere interactions.