The specific surface area (SSA), defined as the surface area of ice per unit mass, is an important variable characterizing the complex microstructure of snow. Its application range covers the physical evolution of snow (metamorphism), photochemistry and optical and microwave remote
sensing. This paper presents a new device, POSSSUM (Profiler Of Snow Specific Surface area Using SWIR reflectance Measurement), designed to allow the rapid acquisition of SSA profiles down to ∼20 m depth and with an effective vertical resolution of 10–20 mm. POSSSUM is based on the
infrared (IR) reflectance technique: A laser diode operating at 1310 nm illuminates the snow at nadir incidence angle along the face of a drilled hole. The reflected radiance is measured at three zenith angles (20°, 40° and 60°) each for two azimuth angles (0° and 180°).
A second laser operating at a shorter wavelength (635 nm), which is almost insensitive to SSA, allows the distance to the snow face to be estimated. The reflected IR radiance and the distance are combined to estimate bidirectional reflectances. These reflectances are converted into hemispherical
reflectances and in turn into SSA using a theoretical formulation based on an asymptotic solution of the radiative transfer equation. The evaluation and validation of POSSSUM's SSA measurements took place in spring 2009 in the French Alps. The new method was compared with the methane adsorption
technique and DUFISSS, another well-validated instrument based on the IR technique. The overall measurement error is in the range 10–15%.
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.