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Encyclopedia of Natural Hazards

Chapter January 2012




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Paolo Paron
UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education

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societies and politicians. That goal can be achieved by permanent environmental education programs realized both at
the international and regional level.

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Climate Change
Community Management of Hazards
Fire and Firestorms
Flood Hazard and Disaster
Fog Hazards
Frequency and Magnitude of Events
Geological/Geophysical Disasters
Glacier Hazards
Global Change and its Implication for Natural Disaster
Heat Wave
Human Impact of Hazards
Hurricane (Cyclone, Typhoon)
Hydrometeorological Hazards
Karst Hazards
Land Use, Urbanization, and Natural Hazards
Mass Media and Natural Disasters
Mass Movement
Megacities and Natural Hazards
Misconceptions about Natural Disasters
Models of Hazards and Disasters
Monitoring and Prediction of Natural Hazards
Natural Hazard
Natural Hazard in Developing Countries
Perception of Natural Hazards and Disasters
Radon Hazards
Remote Sensing of Natural Hazards and Disasters
Risk Perception and Communication
Sea Level Change


Paolo Paron
UNESCO-IHE, Delft, The Netherlands
University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

Disasters; Environmental hazards; Extreme events;
Less economically developed countries; Low-income
countries; Natural disasters; Third World


This entry deals mainly with geophysical hazards
(geological, geomorphological, and atmospheric) in
developing countries. A brief mention of the role of
international agencies in LEDC is also given. First of all,
though, some definitions of natural hazards and of
developing countries are required.
The word hazard derives from the Arabic az-zhar,
a composed word meaning literally gaming die
(Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 2002). The first
English meaning is a dice game in which the chances
are complicated by arbitrary rules (Concise Oxford
English Dictionary, 2002) and only in its second definition
there is a mention to what is here addressed, that is, risk of
loss or harm (Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 2002).
These definitions highlight how the term hazard is
highly anthropocentric in nature, and could not be differently so. In fact, it describes an interaction between biophysical processes (occurring on planet Earth forever)
acting on a territory where at a specific time there is human
occupancy. Hence, some natural events can cause harm or
loss of human life or to valued goods, and so they are
perceived as hazards. Without the human presence, there
would not be such a perception, as for instance, when
a strong earthquake strikes in an uninhabited area of the
planet or when very extreme events happen on other
planets where humans are not present, for instance, global
atmospheric perturbation on planet Mars with wind
velocity of some hundred kilometers/hour that we do not
define as hazard but simply observe and describe.
The term hazard is also quantitatively defined
within the geophysical community using the formula:
Rs = H  E  V (here specifically defined for landslide
risk by Varnes, 1984)
Rs = specific risk, or the expected degree of loss due
to a particular magnitude of natural phenomenon
within a specified area over a given period of time
H = hazard, or the probability of occurrence of a particular
magnitude of natural phenomenon within a specified
area over a given period of time
E = elements at risk, or the total economic value of
population, properties, artifacts, infrastructures, amenity, etc. within the specified area under consideration
V = vulnerability, or the proportion of elements at risk or
likely to be affected detrimentally by the hazard, that
is, the significance of loss represented either as
a percentage of E or on the scale 0 to 1.
The term natural hazards also relates vastly with the
concept of time as both perceived by humans and as
a natural factor. In relation to the human perception of
time, well explained by Smith (2009) and shown in
Figure 1, humans retain a sort of long-term average
knowledge of natural environmental processes they


live in. Here long term is related to an individual life

span or his/her few generations back in time, depending
on the degree of link with the cultural roots in each culture.
In this way, for instance, the long-term climatic fluctuations experienced on the planet in the last tens
of thousands years are far beyond the human temporal
panorama and thus cannot easily be incorporated into
a culture if not with quite a certain degree of intellectual
effort. In some cases events with even shorter return
periods (in the range of 100 years) are not recognized by
human beings. Different cultures retain different temporal
panoramas as well exemplified in the case of Australian
aborigines who retain very old knowledge of their
landscape through oral tradition. In relation to time
as a natural factor in natural hazards, the concept of
magnitude and frequency, or return period, is crucial
(Alcantara-Ayala, 2002) and combined with socioeconomic resilience they define the resource boundaries,
upper damage threshold, and upper extreme of Figure 1.
In conclusion, a natural hazard is a physical and/or
biological event that can cause harm to human beings
and their goods above a certain acceptable threshold,
in a specific place at a certain time. The most controversial
issue in this definition is to quantify the acceptable
threshold in terms of both human life and economic
damage. Such a foggy definition is also reflected in the
discrepancy between the few global databases of natural
hazards: Munich Re Geo-Risk (http://sustainability., Swiss Re
National Catastrophe (
%20catastrophes/natural%20catastrophes.html), CRED
EM-DAT ( Although these datasets
converge on the overall figures, they are in disaccord
when counting each specific event and its tolls, as also
highlighted by Mosquera-Machado and Dilley (2009).
The term developing countries has even more
uncertainties in its definition. The United Nations
Statistical Division (
m49/m49regin.htm#developed) defines it on the basis of
the Human Development Index (HDI) which accounts
for life expectancy at birth, literacy rate and gross enrolment ratio, and standard of living expressed by the GDP
per capita. Using these indicators, the UN groups the
world into Regions (developed and developing) and
Countries (developed and developing). Following this
classification, the Developing Regions are composed of:
Africa, Caribbean, Central America, South America, Asia
(excluding Japan), and Oceania (excluding Australia and
New Zealand). The Developed Regions are formed by
the rest of the world, namely Northern America, Europe,
Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. To the developed
macro regions is usually added also South Africa and
Israel. A number of other definitions include emerging
economies (Jain, 2006), BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia,
India, China; Goldman Sachs, 2003) and so forth.
The World Bank uses purely economic indicators such
as the GNI (Gross National Income per capita) and sets



Above average

Hazards vs Resources in MEDC

Natural processes frequency and


MEDC Upper Extreme

MEDC Disaster

MEDC Upper Damage threshold

MEDC Natural Hazard

Long-term average

Below average

MEDC Resource boundaries

or no arm or loss fluctuation

MEDC Natural Hazard

MEDC Disaster


Hazards vs Resources in LEDC

LEDC Disaster

Natural processes frequency and


LEDC Natural Hazard

Above average

Catastrophic event (either natural

disaster or civil war or famine, etc)
traslating in a more or less temporary
collapse of the resilience

LEDC Resource boundaries

or no arm or loss fluctuation

Below average

Long-term average

LEDC Upper Damage threshold

LEDC Upper Extreme


Natural Hazards in Developing Countries, Figure 1 Comparison between MEDC and LEDC thresholds for the onset of Natural
Hazard and Disaster. The thin lined curve in both diagrams indicates a natural process, for example, rainfall, with its frequency and
magnitude in time. The midline stands for the long-term average. (a) In the MEDC thresholds are quite stable through time if not
becoming wider with time. Also they show a quite wide range of tolerance or resilience that defines the resource boundaries.
A natural hazard impacts on society only when the MEDC Upper Damage threshold is surpassed (Modified after Smith and Petley,
2009). (b) In LEDC, on the other hand, all boundaries and thresholds are highly variable in time depending on socioeconomic
instability of these countries. The resource boundaries are in general smaller than the one of MEDC. Furthermore in LEDC, the
thresholds for Upper Damage and Upper Extreme are not very far one from the other, while in MEDC, they are more widely spaced.

Natural Hazards in Developing Countries, Figure 2 (Continued)








Natural Hazards in Developing Countries, Figure 2 (a) Location of the LEDC and of some of the main natural hazards in the world. The LEDC regions are: Central and
South America, Africa (excluding South Africa), Asia (Mid, Central, South East, Far, excluding Japan South Korea, Taiwan, and Russia). (b) Disaster type proportion by UN
macro regions 19742003 (From CRED database).


Disaster Type Proportions by United Nations Sub-Regions:


EM-DAT: THE OFDA/CRED International Disaster Database

www. Unverst Catholique de Louvain. Brussels. Belgium



Natural Hazards in Developing Countries, Table 1

Environments and their main locations in the LEDC regions


Humid tropic

Indian Ocean realm

Central America, South of
Mexico; Amazon basin;
Central-West Africa,
Mexico; parts of South America;
North, Central, East and
Southern Africa; Asia and
Middle East (excluding South
East Asia)
Mexico; parts of South America;
North Africa (Saharan region),
East and South Africa; Asia and
Middle East (excluding South
East Asia)
Central and South America
(Andes); Asia (AlpineHimalayan mountains)
All regions
Mainly South East Asia and
Pacific realm
Western and Southern part of
South America (Andes); Asia
(Alpine-Himalayan mountains)
All regions, mainly on coastal

Arid and semiarid

(cold and hot)


Mountain (including high

mountain and associated
Glacial and periglacial
Technoscapes or anthropic
environments (megacities)

Natural Hazards in Developing Countries, Table 2 Examples

of natural hazards, their rapidity, and the environment they
mainly occur in, with reference to Table 1
Type of natural

Type of natural hazards in developing countries

Natural hazards are zonal phenomena (Green, 2007) and
as such they are not evenly distributed on the entire planet.
Figure 2 shows the distribution of several hazards and it

Rapid Slow Environment

Epidemics diseases
Coast = erosion
Dust storm

Flash floods
Glacier surges



Plant and livestock

Sea level rise
Sinkholes (karst)

Soil erosion
(including gully


Dzud (also spelled

Coastal Floods

Slope instability

thresholds of GNI each year on the first of July. With this

classification, the bank defines the following category of
countries: Low-Income, with $975 or less per capita/year;
Lower-Middle Income, $976$3,855 per capita/year;
Upper-Middle Income, $3,856$11,905 per capita/year;
and High Income, $11,906 or more. The first two groups
are usually referred to as developing countries, but the
bank also specifies that this system is not always related
to the degree of development of a nation (http://go.
An alternative to these definitions is given by the
term Less Economically Developed Countries (LEDC),
as opposed to More Economically Developed Countries
(MEDC). LEDC have high birth rates (>20%), death rates
(>30%), and infant mortality (>30%); more than half of
their workforce are involved in agriculture and have
a low level of nutrition, secondary schooling, literacy,
electricity consumption per head and GDP is usually less
than 1,000 USD/capita/year (Mayhew, 2009).
Visually, the so-called Northsouth divide, separating
MEDC and LEDC countries, is also shown in Figure 2
with South countries in gray and North countries in
white (Brandt, 1980).





Mountain, glacial, periglacial

All (with much less influence
on the glacial and periglacial)
Coastal, technoscapes
Arid and semiarid
Arid and semiarid
Arid and semiarid (with global
Arid and semiarid (cold,
especially Mongolia plains)
Coastal, technoscapes
All (excluding glacial and
Arid and semiarid
Mountain, desert (coastal)
Coastal, islands (mainly
between +20 and 20 of
All (with much less influence
on the glacial and periglacial)
Coastal, technoscapes
All (if limestone or dolomite or
evaporitic rocks are present)
Mountain, humid tropics,
Most, especially with human
Glacial and periglacial
Arid and semiarid, mountain
Coastal, technoscapes
Arid and semiarid

Derived from Alexander (1993), Whittow (1996), Alcantara-Ayala

(2002), Goudie (2002), and Smith and Petley 2009

emerges how much more LEDC are exposed to natural

hazards than MEDC.
The environments found in the LEDC countries
are summarized in the following Table 1, where under
the field Occurrence is listed the main geographical
distribution within the LEDC.
Each of the environments of Table 1 has its own
specific type of geophysical and biological processes.
Table 2 presents most of the natural hazards occurring by
environment, that is far from being exhaustive.
Some geophysical hazards are not following the
same zonation of Table 1; instead they are located at
tectonic plates boundaries (see Figure 2). Notably
earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic activity are
mainly found in the so-called circum Pacific fire belt,
encompassing all the continental areas facing the



Natural Hazards in Developing Countries, Table 3 Examples

of complex interaction between natural and anthropic causes
of some natural hazards
Natural hazard Anthropic component

Natural component

Desertification Clearing, overgrazing,

in semiarid
wood collection,
charcoal burning, etc.
Soil erosion in Runoff from new roads,
removal of protective
a valley
vegetation for
increased cropping
areas, plowing
perpendicular to the
contour lines, etc.
Coastal erosion Side effect of groynes up
the coast, or of
a reduced sediment
supply due to
damming of the rivers
Removal of natural
mismanaged dam
regulation, land

Drought and climate

Change in climate or in
base level

Higher intensity and/or

frequency of storms,
increase in sea level
Higher intensity and
may be amount of

Adapted from Goudie (2002), p. 507

Pacific Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, the East Indian

Ocean and the Philippine Sea, as well as onshore
Central and South Asia.
Traditionally, natural hazards are defined as
a sudden release of energy and/or matter in that specific
system (Smith and Petley, 2009), with an accent on
their velocity of development. This is true for the most
striking processes like earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic
eruptions, rapid landslides, and flash floods, but in fact
the release of energy and/or matter can also be slowly
onsetting instead of rapid. Drought, dzud (or zud), soil
erosion, dust storms, desertification, coastal erosion,
and salinization are some of the slow developing processes. Table 2 distinguishes between the different
velocities of each natural hazard in LEDC. Although it
could be noticed that most of the events are rapid in their
final expression, it is important to identify the development processes of any specific natural hazard in order
to be able to identify the most appropriate type of monitoring and early warning systems as well as preparedness plans that should be adopted for each specific
Most of the biological hazards are slowly on setting
if not chronically endemic and in most cases it is difficult to identify them as purely natural. In countries
where the human population is below the average
nutritional and health status like, for example, in the
bottom billion population (Collier, 2008), the impact
of a virus/infection could be devastating, while in

better-off countries the impacts of the same infection

would be much lower. An example is given by malaria
infection that is weakening most of African population
but not its richer tiny percentage, because they have
access to better health care, sanitation, and nutrition.
Similarly some geomorphological hazards are the
result of interplay between human and natural causes,
as shown in Table 3.
The global death toll due to natural disasters in the
developing countries can be as high as 95% of the total
(Alexander, 1993). There are three indicators usually
adopted for defining the magnitude of a natural hazard
or disaster: number of deaths; number of people
affected; and economic loss (CRED database). It has
been shown (Pielke and Pielke, 2000) that there is an
inverse correlation between the economic loss and the
death toll: The more economic loss is suffered the less
death is registered. This means that when high income
countries are hit, they lose mainly economically while
when a low income country is hit, the death rates are
For this reason in LEDC, the most accepted indicator
for magnitude of natural hazard is mortality and using
this indicator it results that the top 25 countries
affected by multi-hazard mortality are all in the LEDC
(Mosquera-Machado and Dilley, 2009).
Vulnerability has been recognized as the most
important factor in calculating risk, both to population
and goods (Wisner et al., 2004). Nevertheless
vulnerability is calculated in many different ways and still
there is no standard practice (Alexander, 1993; Wisner
et al., 2004; Mosquera-Machado and Dilley, 2009).
Despite the variability in assessing vulnerability in LEDC,
some factors leading to lower resilience are common:
Lack of institutional organization, lack of sound early
warning systems, low preventive capacity at both
structural and cultural levels, low awareness and
education of the population at risk, absence of effective
civil protection are some of the causes of higher exposure
to risk, not to mention the more general but still relevant
to the issue poverty trap (Alexander, 1993; Smith, 2009;
Wisner et al., 2004, among others).

Role of international agencies dealing with natural

hazards in developing countries
The international community, led by a move of the United
Nations in early 1990s, started addressing these
issues especially for LEDC. The International Decade
for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR), which then
evolved into the ISNDR (International Strategy for
Natural Disaster Reduction,
started with a strong engineering paradigm, top-bottom
approach (Hamilton, 2000; Smith, 2009; Chester, 2002),
and then, with the ISNDR, evolved into a more development/complexity type of approach.
Following the 1994 devastating famine in sub-Saharan
Africa, a group of humanitarian agencies launched the


Sphere Project, with the aim of coordinating and improving the professionalism, effectiveness, and accountability
of the aid actions in disaster contexts. The Sphere
Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in
Disaster Response sets out for the first time what
people affected by disasters have a right to expect
from humanitarian assistance. The aim of the Project
is to improve the quality of assistance provided to
people affected by disasters, and to enhance the accountability of the humanitarian system in disaster response
english/). Sphere standards set a new paradigm in humanitarian emergencies: Despite being a nonmandatory
set of standards, most agencies/organization comply
with them. Sphere standard undergoes also periodical
participatory review.

Despite a great deal of studies concerned with the
explanation and forecast of global atmospheric and
volcanic hazards, addressing also the developing
countries, there is still a desperate need for detailed
identification of natural hazards in developing countries
(especially the more complex, slow developing ones).
Capacity building at academic and professional level
should be supported and strengthened by the international
community. There is a big opportunity here also for
philanthropic donations by wealthy Africans, South
Americans, and Asians who can probably better
select and direct their generous efforts to deserving
compatriots/research centers.
One of the biggest challenges to reduce natural hazard
vulnerability especially in LEDC for policy makers, land
planners, international and local community leaders is
well spelled out by Smith and Pedley (2009, p. 339)
Any improvement in the connectivity between people
and their environment depends on assisting all community
exposed to risk to develop their own hazard-reducing
capabilities and local self-reliance following disasters.
This is not always an easy task because it depends, to some
extent, on external inputs. For example, the construction
of rural roads in landslide-prone terrain is doomed to
failure if no provision is made for the use of appropriate
engineering measures. Once again there is a need for
integrated approaches in which sensitive external
assistance is deployed to help build community
skills for the anticipation of hazards and the mitigation
of their impacts.
Alcantara-Ayala, I., 2002. Geomorphology, natural hazards,
vulnerability and prevention of natural disasters in developing
countries. Geomorphology, 47, 107124.
Alexander, D., 1993. Natural Disasters. London: UCL Press. 632 p.
Brandt, W., 1980. NorthSouth. A Program for Survival.
Cambridge: MIT Press. 304 p.


Chester, D. K., 2002. Overview: hazard and risk. In Allison, R. J.

(ed.), Applied Geomorphology: Theory and Practice.
Chichester: Wiley, pp. 251263.
Collier, P., 2008. The Bottom Billion. Oxford: OUP. 224 p.
Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 2002. Oxford University Press,
1728 p.
CRED database, 2010.
Goldman Sachs, 2003. Dreaming with BRICs. Global Economics
Report, 99, p. 23. (
book/99-dreaming.pdf). Accessed 08 March 2010.
Goudie, A. S., 2002. The Nature of the Environment, 4th edn.
Oxford: Blackwell, p. 544.
Green, C., 2007. Natural hazards. In Douglas, I., Hugget, R. J., and
Perkins, C. (eds.), Companion Encyclopedia of Geography.
London: Routledge, pp. 645661.
Hamilton, R. M., 2000. Science and technology for natural disaster
reduction. Natural Hazards Review, 1(1), 5660.
Jain, S. C., 2006. Emerging Economies and the Transformation of
International Business. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing,
p. 384.
Mayhew, S. 2009. Less economically developed country. In OUP (ed.),
Oxford Reference Online. Oxford, UK: University of Oxford. A dictionary of Geography.
Subjects_and_Titles__2E_PS04. Accessed 09 March 2010.
Mosquera-Machado, S., and Dilley, M., 2009. A comparison of
selected global disaster risk assessment results. Natural
Hazards, 48, 439456.
Pielke, R. A., Jr., and Pielke, R. A., Sr., 2000. Storms. Reutledge:
London/New York.
Smith, K., 2009. Natural hazards. In Cuff, D., and Goudie, A. S.
(eds.), The Oxford Companion to Global Change. New York:
Oxford University Press.
Smith, K., and Petley, D. N., 2009. Environmental Hazards.
Assessing Risk and Reducing Disaster, 5th edn. London/New
York: Reutledge. 383 p.
Varnes, D. J., 1984. Landslide hazard zonation: a review of principles and practice. International Association of Engineering
Geologists, Commission on Landslides and other Mass Movements on Slopes. Paris: Unesco. 60 p.
Whittow, J., 1996. Environmental hazards. In Douglas, I.,
Hugget, R. J., and Robinson, M. (eds.), Companion
Encyclopedia of Geography: The Environment and Humankind.
London: Routledge, pp. 620650.
Wisner, B., Blaikie, P., Cannon, T., and Davis, I., 2004. At Risk:
Natural Hazards, Peoples Vulnerability, and Disasters.
London/New York: Routledge. 471 p.

Civil Protection and Crisis Management
Classification of Natural Disasters
Community Management of Hazards
Coping Capacity
Costs (Economic) of Natural Hazards and Disasters
Disaster Risk Management
Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR)
Early Warning Systems
Education and Training for Emergency Preparedness
Exposure to Natural Hazards
Geological/Geophysical Disasters
Global Change and its Implications for Natural Disasters
Global Network of Civil Society Organisations for Disaster
Human Impact of Hazards
Humanity as an Agent of Geological Disaster



Hyogo Framework for Action

International Strategies for Disaster Reduction (IDNDR and ISDR)
Livelihoods and Disasters
Megacities and Natural Hazards
Perception of Natural Hazards and Disasters
Red Cross and Red Crescent
Time and Space in Disaster
United Nations Organisation and Natural Disasters
Warning Systems
Worldwide Trends in Natural Disasters

Cathy Scheib
British Geological Survey, Nottingham, UK

Natural radioactivity originates from two primary sources:
cosmic radiation and radioactive elements in the earths crust.
All the elements from polonium (atomic number 84) to uranium (atomic number 92) are radioactive. Radioisotopes of
some lighter elements are also found in nature (e.g., 40K).
Many atoms are unstable and will change quite naturally
into atoms of another element accompanied by the emission
of ionizing radiation. Unstable atoms that change through
radioactive decay to form other nuclides are said to be radioactive and are referred to as radionuclides or radioisotopes.
The rate of change or decay of an unstable radionuclide is
indicated by its half-life, which is the period of time during
which half the original number of atoms would have
decayed. The radioactivity of the earth includes three major
categories: primordial radionuclides, which have very long
half-lives, were created in stellar processes before the
earth was formed and are still present in the earths crust;
secondary radionuclides, which are decay products of primordial radionuclides that are themselves radioactive and
will decay to other secondary radionuclides or to stable
isotopes; and cosmogenic radionuclides which are continuously produced by bombardment of stable nuclides by
cosmic rays, primarily in the atmosphere. Natural radionuclides are ubiquitous in the environment and make a major
contribution to background radiation (see Dose Rate).
Cosmic radiation
The atmosphere is continuously exposed to primary cosmic
radiation that originates in outer space. This cosmic radiation
comprises predominantly protons (about 87%) and alphaparticles (about 11%), with a smaller fraction of nuclei and
*British Geological Survey

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very high energy electrons comprising the remainder. The

interactions of these primary particles with atmospheric
nuclei produce electrons, gamma rays, neutrons, and mesons.
The amount of cosmic radiation increases with altitude
and with polar latitudes. The annual cosmic-ray dose
equivalent is about 0.3 mSv at sea level. In Leadville,
Colorado (altitude 3,200 m), for example, the residents
receive around 1.25 mSv year 1, which is more than four
times the annual dose from cosmic radiation at sea level
(Eisenbud and Gesell, 1997). Because of this effect of
altitude, passengers and crew of high-flying aircraft are
subject to additional dose from cosmic rays. Solar activity
affects the effective dose from cosmic radiation received
during aviation; the amount of cosmic radiation produced
by the sun varies with an approximately 11-year cycle (see
Solar Flares). Years with increased levels of solar activity
translate to a higher frequency of solar flares, some of
which increase the amount of cosmic radiation in the
earths atmosphere resulting in higher annual effective
doses to aircrews during those years (UNSCEAR, 2000).
The nuclear reactions initiated by cosmic particles in
the atmosphere give rise to a number of cosmogenic
radionuclides, such as 14C, which is used to date relics
containing naturally carbonaceous material.

Terrestrial natural radioactivity

The naturally occurring primordial radionuclides of the
earth can be divided into those that occur singly and those
that are the components of three decay chains. The
uranium series originates with the most abundant uranium
isotope, 238U (Figure 1), and accounts for the largest proportion of human exposure to ionizing radiation due to
radon gas (222Rn). The actinide series begins with 235U,
which comprises only 0.72% of total uranium, and the
thorium series originates with 232Th.
In a closed system, the daughter nuclides produced by
radioactive decay in each series eventually achieve
a state called secular equilibrium with their parent
radionuclide. This state is achieved when the half-life of
the parent nuclide is much longer than those of the
succeeding species, such that there is no significant
change in the concentration of the parent during the time
interval over which its shorter-lived descendants attain
equilibrium. When this state is achieved, all nuclides
within a given decay chain decay at the same rate. The
Th series comes to equilibrium in about 70 years, in
contrast to the 238U chain, which takes longer than
106 years to reach equilibrium. This state of secular
equilibrium only occurs in a truly closed system, so
disequilibrium can occur if the system changes and is no
longer closed. For example, if the members of the
decay chain are being transported by ground water,
the differing physicochemical behavior of each element
in the chain may lead to differing migration rates or
the precipitation or dissolution of the different decay
chain members, thus leading to disequilibrium. As
Ra is chemically very different from 238U, it is possible