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The Elution of Ions Through Field and Laboratory Snowpacks

  • Sotiris Tsiouris (a1), Christopher E. Vincent (a1), Trevor D. Davies (a1) and Peter Brimblecombe (a1)

Abstract

It has been recognised for many years that the first fraction of meltwater from a melting snowpack contains a much higher concentration of ions than that of the bulk (or average) snow of which the pack is comprised (Foster 1978, Johannessen and Henriksen 1978). This process leads to the so called “acid flush” in the spring and can have severe ecological effects on lakes and streams (Hagen and Langeland 1973, Leivestad and Muniz 1976, National Research Council of Canada 1981). We have studied elution of ions through a snowpack on Folgefonna near Bergen, Norway, and in the laboratory. In the field we collected meltwater samples at hourly intervals for a period of 4 d at the start of the melt season, and analyzed them for pH, , Cl, Na+, Mg2+, Ca2+ and K+. 2 m cores were also collected at the beginning and end of the experiment in order to study bulk changes in snow composition. The meltwaters showed a diurnal cycle with high ionic concentrations around noon, with and levels rising by factors of up to four and six-fold compared to the average concentrations on the first day. Cl levels peaked much later, after the and levels had decreased, and only reached 2.3 times their lowest concentrations. pH values were strongly correlated with and levels, suggesting that a significant proportion of these anions were in the form of strong acids.

The laboratory experiments involved slow melting of snow samples collected in the Cairngorm mountains, Scotland, and also showed that and (and also Mg2+ and K+) ions were removed from the snow preferentially whilst Na+ and Cl tended to remain longer. The position of H+ within the ion elution sequence is unclear due to uncertainties in the absolute determination of pH in the field measurements, but the laboratory experiments confirm the differential rates of elution shown in the Norwegian snowpack and reaffirms its importance in the acidification of streams during spring.

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Copyright

References

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Brimblecombe, P, Tranter, M, Abrahams, P W, Blackwood, I, Davies, T D, Vincent, C E 1985 Relocation and preferential elution of acidic solute through the snowpack of a small, remote, high-altitude Scottish catchment. Annals of Glaciology 7: 141147
Colbeck, S C 1972 A theory of water percolation in snow. Journal of Glaciology 11(63): 369385
Davies, T D, Vincent, C E, Brimblecombe, P 1982 Preferential elution of strong acids from a Norwegian ice cap. Nature 300(5883): 161163
Foster, P M 1978 The modelling of pollutant concentrations during snow melt. Leatherhead, Surrey, Central Electricity Research Laboratories (Laboratory Note RD/L/N 46/78)
Hagen, A, Langeland, A 1973 Polluted snow in southern Norway and the effect of the meltwater on freshwater and aquatic organisms. Environmental Pollution 5: 4557
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Johannessen, M, Henriksen, A 1978 Chemistry of snow meltwater; changes in concentration during melting. Water Resources Research 14(4): 615619
Leivestad, H, Muniz, I P 1976 Fish kill at low pH in a Norwegian river. Nature 259(5542): 391392
McQuaker, N R, Kluckner, P D, Sandberg, D K 1983 Chemical analysis of acid precipitation: pH and acidity determinations. Environmental Science and Technology 17: 431435
National Research Council of Canada 1981 acidification in the Canadian aquatic environment: scientific criteria for assessing the effects of acidic deposition on aquatic ecosystems. Ottawa, National Research Council of Canada (Publication 18475 196)
O’Neill, A D J, Gray, D M 1973 Solar radiation penetration through snow. International Association of Hydrological Sciences Publication 107 (Symposium of Banff 1972 – Role of Snow and Ice in Hydrology) Vol 1: 227241
WMORPS 1978 World Meteorological Organization second analysis on reference precipitation samples. Geneva, WMO

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