Impact of water vapor diffusion and latent heat on the effective thermal conductivity of snow

Fourteau, Kévin; Domine, Florent; Hagenmuller, Pascal

Heat transport in snowpacks is understood to occur through the two processes of heat conduction and latent heat transport carried by water vapor, which are generally treated as decoupled from one another. This paper investigates the coupling between both these processes in snow, with an emphasis on the impacts of the kinetics of the sublimation and deposition of water vapor onto ice. In the case when kinetics is fast, latent heat exchanges at ice surfaces modify their temperature and therefore the thermal gradient within ice crystals and the heat conduction through the entire microstructure. Furthermore, in this case, the effective thermal conductivity of snow can be expressed by a purely conductive term complemented by a term directly proportional to the effective diffusion coefficient of water vapor in snow, which illustrates the inextricable coupling between heat conduction and water vapor transport. Numerical simulations on measured three-dimensional snow microstructures reveal that the effective thermal conductivity of snow can be significantly larger, by up to about inline-formula50 % for low-density snow, than if water vapor transport is neglected. A comparison of our numerical simulations with literature data suggests that the fast kinetics hypothesis could be a reasonable assumption for modeling heat and mass transport in snow. Lastly, we demonstrate that under the fast kinetics hypothesis the effective diffusion coefficient of water vapor is related to the effective thermal conductivity by a simple linear relationship. Under such a condition, the effective diffusion coefficient of water vapor is expected to lie in the narrow inline-formula100 % to about inline-formula80 % range of the value of the diffusion coefficient of water vapor in air for most seasonal snows. This may greatly facilitate the parameterization of water vapor diffusion of snow in models.

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Fourteau, Kévin / Domine, Florent / Hagenmuller, Pascal: Impact of water vapor diffusion and latent heat on the effective thermal conductivity of snow. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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