U.S. Department of Defense


Date of this Version



Published in Environmental Science & Technology Vol. 40, N. 24, 2006.


The detailed physical characteristics of the subarctic snowpack must be known to quantify the exchange of adsorbed pollutants between the atmosphere and the snow cover. For the first time, the combined evolutions of specific surface area (SSA), snow stratigraphy, temperature, and density were monitored throughout winter in central Alaska. We define the snow area index (SAI) as the vertically integrated surface area of snow crystals, and this variable is used to quantify pollutants’ adsorption. Intense metamorphism generated by strong temperature gradients formed a thick depth hoar layer with low SSA (90 cm2 g-1) and density (200 kg m-3), resulting in a low SAI. After snowpack buildup in autumn, the winter SAI remained around 1000 m2/m2 of ground, much lower than the SAI of the Arctic snowpack, 2500 m2 m-2. With the example of PCBs 28 and 180, we calculate that the subarctic snowpack is a smaller reservoir of adsorbed pollutants than the Arctic snowpack and less efficiently transfers adsorbed pollutants from the atmosphere to ecosystems. The difference is greater for the more volatile PCB 28. With climate change, snowpack structure will be modified, and the snowpack’s ability to transfer adsorbed pollutants from the atmosphere to ecosystems may be reduced, especially for the more volatile pollutants.