Articles | Volume 14, issue 7
29 Jul 2010
 | 29 Jul 2010

Laboratory evidence for enhanced infiltration of ion load during snowmelt

G. Lilbæk and J. W. Pomeroy

Abstract. Meltwater ion concentration and infiltration rate into frozen soil both decline rapidly as snowmelt progresses. Their temporal association is highly non-linear and a covariance term must be added in order to use time-averaged values of snowmelt ion concentration and infiltration rate to calculate chemical infiltration. The covariance is labelled enhanced ion infiltration and represents the additional ion load that infiltrates due to the timing of high meltwater concentration and infiltration rate. Previous assessment of the impact of enhanced ion infiltration has been theoretical; thus, experiments were carried out to examine whether enhanced infiltration can be recognized in controlled laboratory settings and to what extent its magnitude varies with soil moisture. Three experiments were carried out: dry soil conditions, unsaturated soil conditions, and saturated soil conditions. Chloride solutions were added to the surface of frozen soil columns; the concentration decreased exponentially over time to simulate snow meltwater. Infiltration excess water was collected and its chloride concentration and volume determined. Ion load infiltrating the frozen soil was specified by mass conservation. Results showed that infiltrating ion load increased with decreasing soil moisture as expected; however, the impact of enhanced ion infiltration increased considerably with increasing soil moisture. Enhanced infiltration caused 2.5 times more ion load to infiltrate during saturated conditions than that estimated using time-averaged ion concentrations and infiltration rates alone. For unsaturated conditions, enhanced ion infiltration was reduced to 1.45 and for dry soils to 1.3. Reduction in infiltration excess ion load due to enhanced infiltration increased slightly (2–5%) over time, being greatest for the dry soil (45%) and least for the saturated soil (6%). The importance of timing between high ion concentrations and high infiltration rates was best illustrated in the unsaturated experiment, which showed large inter-column variation in enhanced ion infiltration due to variation in this temporal covariance.