Understanding the microstructure of ice underpins the interpretation of ice-core measurements and many ice-sheet properties. A detailed study of polar snow and ice using scanning electron microscope (SEM) and X-ray analysis revealed the microstructural distribution of soluble impurities. Sublimation under vacuum (etching) concentrated impurity from both the bulk and grain boundaries on to the specimen surfaces in detectable quantities. Sublimation in the cold room before examination (preetching) collected previously unobservable quantities of impurity at triple junctions. A heterogeneous distribution of impurities was observed. Chloride was frequently found to originate from the lattice, but not usually at triple junctions. Other impurities, particularly sodium chloride, were detected at grain boundaries and bubble surfaces. Sulphate was often found at triple junctions in specimens containing a high bulk concentration of the acid, frequently in conjunction with cations. This suggests the possibility that veins were only filled with significant amounts of impurity when the surrounding grain boundaries were saturated. The model of impurity arrangement inferred from the results reconciles differences between previous SEM studies; additionally it is consistent with and explains recent electrical conduction observations. The disconnected arrangement of impurity-filled grain boundaries and veins limits opportunities for significant post-depositional solute movement
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