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The influence of temperature on the small-strain viscous deformation mechanics of snow: a comparison with polycrystalline ice

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Glen's law is commonly used to model the viscous deformation of polycrystalline ice. It is a power law that relates stress to viscous strain rate and contains three material parameters: n, a power-law exponent, Q, an activation energy, and A0, a material constant. Because polycrystalline ice is the constituent material of snow, it is to be expected that the viscous deformation mechanics of snow are related to the viscous behaviour of polycrystalline ice, especially under small strains and low strain rates when kinematic effects in the ice matrix like bond breakage, bond formation and grain sliding are of secondary importance. Based on 64 deformation-controlled compression tests on fine-grained snow in the density range 200-430 kg m-3 and temperature range T =-20 to -2°C, we show that Glen's law—with material parameters similar to those for polycrystalline ice—can be applied to model the viscous deformation of high-density snow. However, the values of the ice material parameters are valid for densities above a relatively low density of 400 kg m-3; they are not valid for snow with densities below 360 kg m-3. We present the variation of n, Q and A for snow as a function of density and temperature. A possible explanation for this behaviour is that the ice grains in low-density snow are less constrained. Therefore, deformation mechanisms, such as grain-boundary sliding, increase in overall importance, leading to smaller n values and higher activation energies, Q. Although the material behaviour of low-density snow can be accurately modelled using a power law, the power-law parameters depart substantially from those of polycrystalline ice. The large variation of n and Q with temperature and density underscores the difficulty of predicting snow avalanches.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2003

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  • The Annals of Glaciology is a peer-reviewed, thematic journal published 2 to 4 times a year by the International Glaciological Society (IGS). Publication frequency is determined and volume/issue numbers assigned by the IGS Council on a year-to-year basis and with a lead time of 3 to 4 years. The Annals of Glaciology is included in the ISI Science Citation Index from volume 50, number 50 onwards.

    Themes can be on any aspect of the study of snow and ice. Individual members can make a suggestion for a theme for an Annals issue to the Secretary General, who will forward it to the IGS Publications Committee. The IGS Publication Committee will make a recommendation for an individual themed Annals issue, together with a potential Annals Chief Editor for that issue, to IGS Council. The IGS Council will make the decision whether to proceed, taking into account the spread of topics and the overall capacity for publication of pages in Annals.

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