Collaborative Research: Laboratory Studies of Isotopic Exchange in Snow and Firn
This award supports a project to develop a quantitative understanding of the processes active in isotopic exchange between snow/firn and water vapor, which is of paramount importance to ice core interpretation. Carefully controlled laboratory studies will be conducted at a variety of temperatures to empirically measure the mass transfer coefficient (the rate at which water moves from the solid to the vapor phase) for sublimating snow and to determine the time scale for isotopic equilibration between water vapor and ice. In addition the isotopic fractionation coefficient for vapor derived from sublimating ice will be determined and the results will be used to update existing models of mass transfer and isotopic evolution in firn. It is well known that water vapor moves through firn due to diffusion, free convection and forced convection. Although vapor movement through variably-saturated firn due to these processes has been modeled, because of a lack of laboratory data the mass transfer coefficient had to be estimated. Field studies have documented the magnitudes of post-depositional changes, but field studies do not permit rigorous analysis of the relative importance of the many processes which are likely to act in natural snow packs. The results of these laboratory investigations will be broadly applicable to a number of studies and will allow for improvement of existing physically-based models of post-depositional isotopic change, isotopic diffusion in firn, and vapor motion in firn. A major component of this project will be the design and fabrication of the necessary, novel experimental apparatus, which will be facilitated by existing technical expertise, cold room facilities, and laboratory equipment at CRREL. This project is a necessary step toward a quantitative understanding of the isotopic effects of water vapor movement in firn. The proposed work has broader impacts in several different areas. The modeling results will be applicable to a wide range of studies of water in the polar environment, including studies of wind-blown or drifting snow. The proposed collaborative study will partially support a Dartmouth graduate student for three years. This project will also provide support for a young first-time NSF investigator at the University of Vermont. Undergraduate students from Dartmouth will be involved in the research through the Women in Science Project and undergraduate students at the University of Vermont will be supported through the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. The principal investigators and graduate student will continue their tradition of k-12 school outreach by giving science lessons and talks in local schools each year. Research results will be disseminated through scientific conferences, journal publications, and institutional seminars.
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