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The mechanics of snow friction as revealed by micro-scale interface observations

  • JAMES H. LEVER (a1), SUSAN TAYLOR (a1), ARNOLD J. SONG (a1), ZOE R. COURVILLE (a1), ROSS LIEBLAPPEN (a2) and JASON C. WEALE (a1)...

Abstract

The mechanics of snow friction are central to competitive skiing, safe winter driving and efficient polar sleds. For nearly 80 years, prevailing theory has postulated that self-lubrication accounts for low kinetic friction on snow: dry-contact sliding warms snow grains to the melting point, and further sliding produces meltwater layers that lubricate the interface. We sought to verify that self-lubrication occurs at the grain scale and to quantify the evolution of real contact area to aid modeling. We used high-resolution (15 µm) infrared thermography to observe the warming of stationary snow under a rotating polyethylene slider. Surprisingly, we did not observe melting at contacting snow grains despite low friction values. In some cases, slider shear failed inter-granular bonds and produced widespread snow movement with no persistent contacts to melt (μ < 0.03). When the snow grains did not move and persistent contacts evolved, the slider abraded rather than melted the grains at low resistance (μ < 0.05). Optical microscopy revealed that the abraded particles deposited in air pockets between grains and thereby carried heat away from the interface, a process not included in current models. Overall, our results challenge whether self-lubrication is indeed the dominant mechanism underlying low snow kinetic friction.

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Copyright

This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

Correspondence: James H. Lever <james.lever@erdc.dren.mil>

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The mechanics of snow friction as revealed by micro-scale interface observations

  • JAMES H. LEVER (a1), SUSAN TAYLOR (a1), ARNOLD J. SONG (a1), ZOE R. COURVILLE (a1), ROSS LIEBLAPPEN (a2) and JASON C. WEALE (a1)...

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