Measurement of the specific surface area of 176 snow samples using methane adsorption at 77 K



[1] To help quantify exchanges between the atmosphere and the snow cover, we have measured the specific surface area (SSA) of 176 snow samples taken from the seasonal snowpack in the Alps, Svalbard, and the Canadian high Arctic around Alert. A volumetric method was used, and the adsorption isotherm of CH4 on snow at 77 K was recorded. The data were analyzed by the Brunauer-Emmett-Teller method to yield SSA and ΔQCH4, the mean heat of adsorption of the first CH4 monolayer. SSA values obtained were between 100 and 1580 cm2/g. The reproducibility of the method is estimated at 6%, and the accuracy is estimated at 12%. We propose that ΔQCH4 = 2240 ± 200 J/mol should be used as a criterion of reliability of the measurement. The method is described in detail to promote its use. Aged snow samples have lower SSA than fresh ones. The lowest values were found for faceted crystals and depth hoar, and the highest values were found for fresh rimed dendritic snow. A method that field investigators can use to estimate SSA from a visual examination of the snow and from a density measurement is suggested. Snow samples are classified into 14 types based on snow age and crystal shapes. Within each type, a density versus SSA correlation is determined. Our data indicate that, depending on snow type, SSA can then be estimated within 25 to 40% at the 1σ confidence level with the method proposed. Preliminary data suggest that SSA spatial variability of a given snow layer is low (<5%), but metamorphism can increase it.