Articles | Volume 9, issue 5
Research article
23 Sep 2015
Research article |  | 23 Sep 2015

A macroscale mixture theory analysis of deposition and sublimation rates during heat and mass transfer in dry snow

A. C. Hansen and W. E. Foslien

Abstract. The microstructure of a dry alpine snowpack is a dynamic environment where microstructural evolution is driven by seasonal density profiles and weather conditions. Notably, temperature gradients on the order of 10–20 K m−1, or larger, are known to produce a faceted snow microstructure exhibiting little strength. However, while strong temperature gradients are widely accepted as the primary driver for kinetic growth, they do not fully account for the range of experimental observations. An additional factor influencing snow metamorphism is believed to be the rate of mass transfer at the macroscale.

We develop a mixture theory capable of predicting macroscale deposition and/or sublimation in a snow cover under temperature gradient conditions. Temperature gradients and mass exchange are tracked over periods ranging from 1 to 10 days. Interesting heat and mass transfer behavior is observed near the ground, near the surface, as well as immediately above and below dense ice crusts. Information about deposition (condensation) and sublimation rates may help explain snow metamorphism phenomena that cannot be accounted for by temperature gradients alone.

The macroscale heat and mass transfer analysis requires accurate representations of the effective thermal conductivity and the effective mass diffusion coefficient for snow. We develop analytical models for these parameters based on first principles at the microscale. The expressions derived contain no empirical adjustments, and further, provide self consistent values for effective thermal conductivity and the effective diffusion coefficient for the limiting cases of air and solid ice. The predicted values for these macroscale material parameters are also in excellent agreement with numerical results based on microscale finite element analyses of representative volume elements generated from X-ray tomography.

Short summary
We implement a continuum mixture theory to elucidate coupled heat and mass transfer phenomena occurring in a snow cover. The effects of mass transfer near the ground, near the surface including diurnal temperature effects, as well as adjacent to an ice crust are examined. The analysis requires an accurate assessment of thermal conductivity and the mass diffusion coefficient for snow. An analytical model for these parameters is developed, showing remarkable agreement with numerical models.