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Analysis of Snow Microstructure by Means of X-Ray Diffraction Contrast Tomography


  • This study has been performed in the framework of the “Snow-White” project (ANR-06-BLAN 0396-01, Sciences de l'Ingénieur) of the French “Agence Nationale de la Recherche” (ANR). We wish to thank the ANR for its financial support. A. King acknowledges funding received from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (U. K.). Thanks are also due to the CEN team for its invaluable help during the data acquisition period. We would also like to acknowledge ESRF for its scientific support trough the project MA513.


Snow is an agglomerate of ice crystals. The details of its mechanical behavior are still controversially discussed: what is the relative importance of intragranular-viscoplastic deformation versus grain boundary sliding under mechanical loading? In order to understand how snow deforms at the grain scale, micro-mechanical compression tests on dry snow have been performed using X-ray diffraction contrast tomography (DCT). DCT is a non-destructive, 3D characterization technique which combines the principles of X-ray absorption and diffraction imaging. DCT reveals simultaneously the grain structure (in terms of 3D shape and crystallographic orientation) and the absorption microstructure of polycrystalline materials that fulfill specific requirements. Coupled with a sample environment that maintains the snow sample at sub-zero temperature and allows the application of a constant load, this technique allows us to follow at the grain scale the microstructural changes undergone by the sample. We briefly describe the principle of the DCT technique and then present and discuss the first results obtained during in situ compression experiments performed on large-grained snow samples.