Articles | Volume 8, issue 5
04 Mar 2008
 | 04 Mar 2008

Measuring the specific surface area of snow with X-ray tomography and gas adsorption: comparison and implications for surface smoothness

M. Kerbrat, B. Pinzer, T. Huthwelker, H. W. Gäggeler, M. Ammann, and M. Schneebeli

Abstract. Chemical and physical processes, such as heterogeneous chemical reactions, light scattering, and metamorphism occur in the natural snowpack. To model these processes in the snowpack, the specific surface area (SSA) is a key parameter. In this study, two methods, computed tomography and methane adsorption, which have intrinsically different effective resolutions – molecular and 30 μm, respectively – were used to determine the SSA of similar natural snow samples. Except for very fresh snow, the two methods give identical results, with an uncertainty of 3%. This implies that the surface of aged natural snow is smooth up to a scale of about 30 μm and that if smaller structures are present they do not contribute significantly to the overall SSA. It furthermore implies that for optical methods a voxel size of 10 μm is sufficient to capture all structural features of this type of snow; however, fresh precipitation appears to contain small features that cause an under-estimation of SSA with tomography at this resolution. The methane adsorption method is therefore superior to computed tomography for very fresh snow having high SSA. Nonetheless, in addition to SSA determination, tomography provides full geometric information about the ice matrix. It can also be advantageously used to investigate layered snow packs, as it allows measuring SSA in layers of less than 1 mm.

Final-revised paper