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Early-stage interaction between settlement and temperature-gradient metamorphism



Snow metamorphism and settlement change the microstructure of a snowpack simultaneously. Past experiments investigated snow deformation under isothermal conditions. In nature, temperature gradient metamorphism and settlement often occur together. We investigated snow settlement in the first days after the onset of temperature-gradient metamorphism in laboratory experiments by means of in-situ time-lapse micro-computed tomography. We imposed temperature gradients of up to 95 K m−1 on samples of rounded snow with a density of ~230 kg m−3 and induced settlement by applying 1.7 kPa stress with a passive load on the samples simultaneously. We found that snow settled about half as fast when a temperature gradient was present, compared with isothermal conditions. The change in specific surface area after 4 days caused by temperature-gradient metamorphism was only a few percent. The viscosity evolution correlated with the amount of the temperature gradient. Finite element simulations of the snow samples revealed that stress-bearing chains had developed in the snow structure, causing the large increase in viscosity. We could show that a small change in microstructure caused a large change in the mechanical properties. This explains the difficulty of predicting snow mechanical properties in applications such as firn compaction or snow avalanche formation.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

Correspondence: Mareike Wiese <>


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