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Snow isotope diffusion rates measured in a laboratory experiment

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The diffusion of stable water isotopes in snow was measured in two controlled laboratory experiments. Two batches of snow of different isotopic composition were stacked alternately with varying layer thicknesses. The stack was stored in a freezer room at constant temperature for several months, and sampled at regular intervals to analyse the diffusion. Measured isotope profiles were fitted to a theoretical model with diffusion length as the fit parameter. In the first experiment, we observed a difference in diffusion rates between layers of different thicknesses, which is likely caused by layers of snow not being in proper contact with each other. In the second experiment we found very good agreement between measurements and model results. The measured diffusivity is compared with theory, in which we mainly focus on the temperature dependence of the ice–vapour fractionation factors. This temperature dependence is slightly different for the different isotopes of water, which leads to a difference in diffusion rates. We illustrate how our set-up can be used to measure the ratio between ice–vapour fractionation factors of oxygen-18 and deuterium, which determine the relation between the difference in diffusion and the firn temperature.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: March 1, 2011

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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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