Thermal diffusivity of seasonal snow determined from temperature profiles

Holly J. Oldroyd, C. W. Higgins, Hendrik Huwald, John S. Selker, M. B. Parlange

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24 Citations (Scopus)


Thermal diffusivity of snow is an important thermodynamic property associated with key hydrological phenomena such as snow melt and heat and water vapor exchange with the atmosphere. Direct determination of snow thermal diffusivity requires coupled point measurements of thermal conductivity and density, which continually change due to snow metamorphism. Traditional methods for determining these two quantities are generally limited by temporal resolution. In this study we present a method to determine the thermal diffusivity of snow with high temporal resolution using snow temperature profile measurements. High resolution (between 2.5 and 10. cm at 1. min) temperature measurements from the seasonal snow pack at the Plaine-Morte glacier in Switzerland are used as initial conditions and Neumann (heat flux) boundary conditions to numerically solve the one-dimensional heat equation and iteratively optimize for thermal diffusivity. The implementation of Neumann boundary conditions and a t-test, ensuring statistical significance between solutions of varied thermal diffusivity, are important to help constrain thermal diffusivity such that spurious high and low values as seen with Dirichlet (temperature) boundary conditions are reduced. The results show that time resolved thermal diffusivity can be determined from temperature measurements of seasonal snow and support density-based empirical parameterizations for thermal conductivity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-130
Number of pages10
JournalAdvances in Water Resources
Publication statusPublished - May 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Heat diffusion
  • Porous media
  • Snow temperature measurements
  • Thermal conductivity
  • Thermal diffusivity

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