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Organic Contaminant Release from Melting Snow. 2. Influence of Snow Pack and Melt Characteristics

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journal contribution
posted on 01.02.2009 by Torsten Meyer, Ying Duan Lei, Ibrahim Muradi, Frank Wania
Large reservoirs of organic contaminants in seasonal snowpack can be released in short pulses during spring snowmelt, potentially impacting the receiving ecosystems. Laboratory experiments using artificial snow spiked with organic target substances were conducted to investigate the behavior of six organic contaminants with widely variable distribution properties in melting snow. Whereas the influence of a chemical’s equilibrium phase partitioning on the elution behavior is explored in a companion paper, we discuss here the impact of snow properties and melt features, including the snowpack depth, the temperature at the interface between soil and snow, the meltwater content, the internal ice surface area, and the existence of distinct snow layers. Water-soluble organic substances are released in high concentrations at the beginning of a melt period when a deep and aged snowpack undergoes intense melting. Warm ground can cause notable melting at the snow bottom leading to a delayed and dampened concentration peak. Hydraulic barriers in layered snow packs cause preferential meltwater flow which also mitigates the early contaminant flush. Hydrophobic organic pollutants that are associated with particles accumulate near the snow surface and are released at the end of melting. Dirt cones at the surface of a dense snowpack enhance this enrichment. The findings of this laboratory study will aid in the understanding of the behavior of organic pollutants during the melting of more complex, natural snow covers.