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Changes in Surface Area and Concentrations of Semivolatile Organic Contaminants in Aging Snow

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journal contribution
posted on 15.07.2007, 00:00 by Debbie A. Burniston, William J. M. Strachan, John T. Hoff, Frank Wania
During the winter of 1999/2000 five snowpacks at Turkey Lake Watershed east of Lake Superior were sampled immediately after falling and again after several days of aging for the analysis of specific snow surface area and the concentrations of organochlorine pesticides (OCPs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The snow surface could be determined with a relative coefficient of variation of 6% using frontal chromatography, measuring the retention of ethyl acetate, a substance with known adsorption coefficient on the ice surface. The snow surface area of fresh snow varied from 1000 to 1330 cm2/g and was higher for snow falling during colder days. The aged snow samples had consistently lower surface areas ranging from 520 to 780 cm2/g, corresponding to an average loss of half of the initial surface area during aging. The rate of loss of surface area was faster at higher temperatures. Dieldrin, α-HCH, and γ-HCH were the most abundant OCPs in snowmelt water, but endosulfan, chlordane-related substances, heptachlor epoxide, pp'-DDT, pp'-DDE, and chlorinated benzenes were also consistently present. Three midwinter snowpacks that aged during relatively cold temperatures generally experienced a loss of PCBs and OCPs that was of the same order of magnitude as the observed loss of snow surface area. However, no relationship between the extent of loss and the strength of a contaminants' sorption to snow was apparent. Few significant changes in snowpack concentrations of OCPs and PCBs were observed in a snowpack that fell at relatively high temperatures and aged under colder conditions. Concentrations of OCPs and PCBs increased in a late-winter snowpack that aged while temperatures rapidly increased to above freezing. Concentrations of pp'-DDE and endosulfan-II that increased in snowpacks that saw simultaneous decreases in the levels of pp'-DDT and endosulfan-I hint at the occurrence of sunlight induced conversions in snow. While surface area decreases clearly contribute to the loss of semivolatile organic compounds from metamorphosing snowpacks, other confounding factors play a role in determining concentration changes, in particular in wet snow.