Hydrohalite in cold sea ice: Laboratory observations of single crystals, surface accumulations, and migration rates under a temperature gradient, with application to “Snowball Earth"
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When NaCl precipitates out of a saturated solution, it forms anhydrous crystals of halite at temperatures above +0.11?C, but at temperatures below this threshold it instead precipitates as the dihydrate ‘‘hydrohalite,’’ NaCl * 2H2O. When sea ice is cooled, hydrohalite begins to precipitate within brine inclusions at about -23C. In this work, hydrohalite crystals are examined in laboratory experiments: their formation, their shape, and their response to warming and desiccation. Sublimation of a sea ice surface at low temperature leaves a lag deposit of hydrohalite, which has the character of a fine powder. The precipitation of hydrohalite in brine inclusions raises the albedo of sea ice, and the subsequent formation of a surface accumulation further raises the albedo. Although these processes have limited climatic importance on the modern Earth, they would have been important in determining the surface types present in regions of net sublimation on the tropical ocean in the cold phase of a Snowball Earth event. However, brine inclusions in sea ice migrate downward to warmer ice, so whether salt can accumulate on the surface depends on the relative rates of sublimation and migration. The migration rates are measured in a laboratory experiment at temperatures from -2C to -32C; the migration appears to be too slow to prevent formation of a salt crust on Snowball Earth.