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Microstructural change around a needle probe to measure thermal conductivity of snow

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The thermal conductivity of snow determines, to a large extent, ground heat flux and snow metamorphism. One common method of measuring the thermal conductivity of snow is with a needle probe. We measured the microstructural changes in the snow around a typical needle using micro-computed tomography. The insertion of the needle probe caused structural changes up to a radial distance of 0.5–1 mm. Using a commercial needle probe with short (30 s) heating time, we measured thermal conductivity values in snow that were 50% lower than the conductivity measured using a calibrated guarded hot-plate apparatus. Numerically simulated time–temperature curves with an introduced air gap that simulated the needle damage reproduced the observed needle-probe results well, confirming that poor contact resistance between the needle and the snow will lead to measurement discrepancies and a large bias. While most measurements in snow have been done using a long heating time and are not subject to this error, the thermal conductivity of snow measured with needle probes with short measurement times should be avoided. This same effect is probably observed in other brittle and highly porous materials, a condition that may not be widely appreciated.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2010

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  • The Journal of Glaciology is published six times per year. It accepts submissions from any discipline related to the study of snow and ice. All articles are peer reviewed. The Journal is included in the ISI Science Citation Index.
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