Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Radon (222Rn) in ground water of fractured rocks: A diffusion/ion exchange model

January 1, 2004

Ground waters from fractured igneous and high‐grade sialic metamorphic rocks frequently have elevated activity of dissolved radon (222Rn). A chemically based model is proposed whereby radium (226Ra) from the decay of uranium (238U) diffuses through the primary porosity of the rock to the water‐transmitting fracture where it is sorbed on weathering products. Sorption of 226Ra on the fracture surface maintains an activity gradient in the rock matrix, ensuring a continuous supply of 226Ra to fracture surfaces. As a result of the relatively long half‐life of 226Ra (1601 years), significant activity can accumulate on fracture surfaces. The proximity of this sorbed 226Ra to the active ground water flow system allows its decay progeny 222Rn to enter directly into the water. Laboratory analyses of primary porosity and diffusion coefficients of the rock matrix, radon emanation, and ion exchange at fracture surfaces are consistent with the requirements of a diffusion/ion‐exchange model. A dipole‐brine injection/withdrawal experiment conducted between bedrock boreholes in the high‐grade metamorphic and granite rocks at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, Grafton County, New Hampshire, United States (42°56′N, 71°43′W) shows a large activity of 226Ra exchanged from fracture surfaces by a magnesium brine. The 226Ra activity removed by the exchange process is 34 times greater than that of 238U activity. These observations are consistent with the diffusion/ion‐exchange model. Elutriate isotopic ratios of 223Ra/226Ra and 238U/226Ra are also consistent with the proposed chemically based diffusion/ion‐exchange model.

Publication Year 2004
Title Radon (222Rn) in ground water of fractured rocks: A diffusion/ion exchange model
DOI 10.1111/j.1745-6584.2004.tb02624.x
Authors W.W. Wood, T. F. Kraemer, A. Shapiro
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ground Water
Index ID 70027017
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Toxic Substances Hydrology Program