Thermal contact resistance at the snow-ice interface: dependence on grain size

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Engineering


Seasonal snow covers consist of many stratigraphic layers of varying density and, therefore, thermal conductivity. Weak layers can develop at the interface between these snow layers, reducing stability and increasing avalanche danger. While it is known that a bulk temperature gradient of -10?C m -1 across a snowpack enhances weak layer development via kinetic snow metamorphism, recent studies have identified an enhancement of this temperature gradient across snow interfaces. Previous work has determined that at a snow-ice interface, such as might exist around ice crusts in the snowpack, the driving factor for a temperature gradient enhancement could be a thermal contact resistance. This creates an interfacial phenomenon that induces a large temperature drop at the interface between two connected materials. The primary mechanism is a reduction of contact area for conduction to occur due to the porous nature of snow. Here, we further investigate the thermodynamics of a snow-ice interface by varying the grain size, which directly correlates to the total contact area. Within a controlled laboratory environment, a 4 mm ice lens was artificially made and placed between rounded grains that varied in size (1, 2, and 3 mm) between experiments. Temperature gradients of -10, -50, and -100 ?C m -1 were then applied across the sample. The temperature gradient was measured in-situ within 1 mm of the ice lens using micro-thermocouple measurements. The local temperature gradient at the snowice interface was found to be up to four times the imposed temperature gradient with 2-3 mm snow grains and near the bulk temperature gradient with the 1 mm grains. Following a thermal analysis, it was concluded that the enhancement in the temperature gradient was also due to a thermal contact resistance at the snow-ice interface. Utilizing timelapse x-ray computed microtomography, a microstructural characterization of the snow-ice interface was also performed, where it was observed that new ice crystal growth, kinetic snow metamorphism, and sublimation were all occurring simultaneously near the ice lens. These results indicate that the observed grain size near an ice lens or crust in a natural snowpack may be a pertinent parameter for better understanding kinetic snow metamorphism regimes that may exist at these interfaces.





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