Tracer applications of noble gas radionuclides in the geosciences

Z. T. Lu, P. Schlosser, W. M. Smethie, N. C. Sturchio, T. P. Fischer, B. M. Kennedy, R. Purtschert, J. P. Severinghaus, D. K. Solomon, T. Tanhua, R. Yokochi

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

102 Scopus citations


Noble gas radionuclides, including 81Kr (t1/2=229,000years), 85Kr (t1/2=10.8years), and 39Ar (t1/2=269years), possess nearly ideal chemical and physical properties for studies of earth and environmental processes. Recent advances in Atom Trap Trace Analysis (ATTA), a laser-based atom counting method, have enabled routine measurements of the radiokrypton isotopes, as well as the demonstration of the ability to measure 39Ar in environmental samples. Here we provide an overview of the ATTA technique, and a survey of recent progress made in several laboratories worldwide. We review the application of noble gas radionuclides in the geosciences and discuss how ATTA can help advance these fields, specifically: determination of groundwater residence times using 81Kr, 85Kr, and 39Ar; dating old glacial ice using 81Kr; and an 39Ar survey of the main water masses of the oceans, to study circulation pathways and estimate mean residence times. Other scientific questions involving a deeper circulation of fluids in the Earth's crust and mantle are also within the scope of future applications. We conclude that the geoscience community would greatly benefit from an ATTA facility dedicated to this field, with instrumentation for routine measurements, as well as for research on further development of ATTA methods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)196-214
Number of pages19
JournalEarth-Science Reviews
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Cosmogenic isotope
  • Groundwater residence time
  • Isotope analysis
  • Noble gas isotope
  • Ocean ventillation
  • Old glacial ice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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