U.S. Department of Defense


Date of this Version



Published in The Cryosphere, 3, 31–39, 2009.


Snow on the ground impacts climate through its high albedo and affects atmospheric composition through its ability to adsorb chemical compounds. The quantification of these effects requires the knowledge of the specific surface area (SSA) of snow and its rate of change. All relevant studies indicate that snow SSA decreases over time. Here, we report for the first time three cases where the SSA of snow increased over time. These are (1) the transformation of a melt-freeze crust into depth hoar, producing an increase in SSA from 3.4 to 8.8m2 kg−1. (2) The mobilization of surface snow by wind, which reduced the size of snow crystals by sublimation and fragmented them. This formed a surface snow layer with a SSA of 61m2 kg−1 from layers whose SSAs were originally 42 and 50m2 kg−1. (3) The sieving of blowing snow by a snow layer, which allowed the smallest crystals to penetrate into open spaces in the snow, leading to an SSA increase from 32 to 61m2 kg−1. We discuss that other mechanisms for SSA increase are possible. Overall, SSA increases are probably not rare. They lead to enhanced uptake of chemical compounds and to increases in snow albedo, and their inclusion in relevant chemical and climate models deserves consideration.