National Conference on Natural Hazards and Mitigation at Eshan College of Engineering, Farah (Mathura) U.P. December 04 – 05, 2012

Radon (Rn-222) AS A PRECURSOR OF SEISMIC ACTIVITY: A REVIEW
Krishan Kant

Principal, Aggarwal Post Graduate College, Ballabgarh, Faridabad (NCR) -121 004 (Haryana) India.

Earthquake Devastations

The present paper discusses analytical techniques for measurement of radon using Solid State Nuclear Track Detectors (SSNTDs) and reviews the origin and mechanism of observed anomalies in concentration of radon and their relationship to earthquakes. volcanic activity.ABSTRACT     The analysis of radon and seismicity has established correlation and radon has been used as a precursor in the prediction of earthquakes. fault mapping and characterization of geothermal sources. Well-established reports indicate that the release of large amount of radon depends to a larger extent on the tectonic disturbance of the host materials. . Anomalous radon changes in ground water and soil gas have been reported for several earthquakes at favorably selected monitoring stations located at distances of several hundred kilometers from their respective epicenters.

2 86. GUJARAT KOYNA.6 25 34.0 90.7 70.LIST OF SOME SIGNIFICANT EARTHQUAKES IN INDIA AND ITS NEIGHBOURHOOD DATE EPICENTRE Lat( Deg N ) 1819 JUN 16 1869 JAN 10 1885 MAY 30 1897 JUN 12 1905 APR 04 1918 JUL 08 1930 JUL 02 1934JAN 15 1941 JUN 26 1943 OCT 23 1950 AUG 15 1956 JUL 21 1967 DEC 10 1975 JAN 19 23. ASSAM BIHAR-NEPALBORDER ANDAMAN ISLANDS ASSAM ARUNACHAL PRADESH-CHINA BORDER ANJAR.8 26.5 7.2 LOCATION MAGNITUDE . HP 8.P SRIMANGAL.0 7. H.6 7.0 6. ASSAM DHUBRI. MAHARASHTRA KINNAUR.8 92.6 12.5 23. ASSAM SOPOR.5 94.6 93 74.0 73.7 8.3 8.GUJARAT NEAR CACHAR.3 91.5 25.0 8.0 96.4 26.5 7.1 7.2 8.0 7.5 6.6 91 76.38 Long( Deg E ) 68.1 26 32.75 78.37 32.3 24.3 17.8 28.49 KUTCH. J&K SHILLONGPLATEAU KANGRA.1 8.

UP BHUJ .72 86.86 76.064°E Sonipat.2 6.3 7.75 18.07 78.0-9.6 6.MP CHAMOLI DIST.6 73. Haryana.42 70.06 79.87°E JABALPUR.808°N 76.15 MANIPURMYANMAR BORDER BIHAR-NEPAL BORDER 6. MAHARASHTRA 6.9 9.38°N 27.0 6.63 6.3 1997 MAY 22 1999 MAR 29 2001 JAN 26 2004 Dec 26 2005 Oct 08 2007 Dec 31 2011 Sept 07 2011Sept 18 2012 March 05 34.30°N 80.62 UTTARKASHI.1988 AUG 06 25.772°E .40 3. UP HILLS LATUR-OSMANABAD.4 1991 OCT 20 1993 SEP 30 30.629°E DELHI NCR India 28. GUJARAT Off west coast northern Sumatra.493°N 23. India Kashmir Himachal Pradesh Pakistan India 6.9 28.6 1988 AUG 21 26.9 4.28 95.08 30.13 95.8 6.12°E 88. Delhi Sikkim Bahadurgarh (New Delhi and 4.41 23.723°N 77.

The art and science of predicting an earthquake or volcanic eruption through precursory methods has acquired an important role.PRECURSORS AND THEIR SIGNIFICANCE IN SEISMIC ACTIVITY PRECURSOR: Anomalous events or processes that may precede an earthquake are called precursor events and might signal a coming earthquake. .

and again it would not be of great practical usefulness.not years .There are four different time frames for earthquake prediction    Long term: Long term prediction involves a time frame of a decade or more and with limited usefulness for public safety. Intermediate term: Intermediate term prediction would fall into a time span of a few weeks to a few years. Impending:  . Short term: It is the short term prediction that is specific information on the time and location of an earthquake given within days. months . weeks.that would be useful for any kind of public safety.

.  On the other hand. Foreshocks etc. 1999) . 1990).. change of water level in wells before the occurrence of earthquake. there exist some other precursors like emission of seismic electromagnetic signals (Fraser-Smith et.. thermal anomaly. 1976). Precursors help managing and minimizing disasters ! . large amount radon emanation from subsoil etc.Among the precursor events that may be important are the following:  There exist many traditional premonitory signs like abnormal behavior of certain species of animals and insects (Rikitake. but they have yet to receive recognition by scientific community. which rely upon experimental database. Ground Uplift and Tilting (Poitrasson et al. Change in electrical resistivity of rocks. al.

4.000 people. Haicheng quake in China  It destroyed half of the city of about 100 million inhabitants. . magnitude-7. but resulted in only a few hundred deaths because of the successful evacuation.Foreshocks:One Successful Prediction: The Feb.000 bridges. Chinese earthquake prediction suffered a major blow when the Tangshan earthquake in northern China struck unpredicted and killed at least 240. transport pipelines. hydraulic facilities. such as this one. as well as homes. 1975.3. In 1976. damaged more than 2.

RADON AND MEASUREMENT TECHNIQUES .

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 . soil temperature.Factors Controlling Emanation      Transmission Characteristics of Bedrock Mineralogical Effects Uranium/Thorium Concentration Carrier Fluids Weather and Soil Types Gases measured in soils can be strongly disturbed by environmental variables like atmospheric pressure. rainfall. soil moisture etc.

automated two-filter monitor. uses silicon diffused junction semiconductor detector and is provided with a cavity chamber in which air/gas sample-having radon is filled. and windowless operation and facilitate discrimination between different ionizing particles.MEASUREMENT TECHNIQUES  Methods of measuring radon in general depend upon the amount of time over which the sample to be tested is collected. diffusion electrostatic monitor etc. Polonium –218 collection method .Etch detectors have also been used. continuous sampling and integrated sampling. Charcoal method . Semiconductor detectors are normally used for real-time measurements and are adorned with better resolution. It can be used to operate at a selected threshold value of energy of the ionizing alpha particle emitted from radon or radon daughters which is built-up in a closed container or hole. . Semiconductor Detectors and Particle Track-Etch method.   Integrated type of monitoring yields a single average concentration for an extended time. stability. Continuous monitoring of radon is done when real-time concentration is required to be known and this involves monitoring through methods like continuous flask monitor. Proportional counters in conjunction with Particle Track. Another versionAlphameter. This involves methods like Plastic bag method .grab or spot sampling. from few days to weeks or more.

besides it furnishes more details and larger contrasts than the simpler radiometric methods. However. or even the leaching of uranium down dip and leaving radium/daughter products behind. the disequilibrium problems of/and mobility of the immediate parent i. and other precursors including uranium. completely free from gamma-ray and beta –particle interference. seismic activity.    . Technique is a sensitive. low cost. it also suffers from limitations like it is a passive device and experience also shows that while using ASPFs. Ra-226. portable. may result in as a record of anomalies.The Particle Track-Etch Method  A widely used passive method when integrated radon measurements are required over a long period as precursor for prediction of volcanic. electronics-free..e. and earthquake. Uses foils known as Alpha-sensitive Plastic Films (ASPFs) which have merits over other methods when used in measurement of radon.

creates narrow.PRINCIPLE OF THE TECHNIQUE  The passage of ionizing particles like alphas. . These trails are known as “tracks”. popularly known as Solid State Nuclear Track Detectors (SSNTDs). through insulating dielectric materials. latent damage trails on atomic scale.

Optical Microscope Tracks in LR-115 SSNTD) Spark Counter for track counting .The track-core enhanced chemical reactivity and this fact is exploited in chemical amplification of these tracks to visible etch-pits or holes to be counted either manually through optical microscope or to be counted automatically (Spark Counter).

These include thin foils of Cellulose nitrate (some commercially available ASPFs include Kodak products like CN-85.5 N NaOH.In the present context of radon measurement. . the SSNTDs selected are alpha-sensitive and also known as ASPFs. LR115 type II. KOH. The chemical used as etchant for post-irradiation track amplification(countable through optical microscope) is normally aqueous 2. CR-39(allyl diglycol carbonate) etc. Lexan polycarbonate. LiOH solutions used at temperatures ranging from room temperature to 70oC for a period ranging from 1-7 h.

DETECTOR USED: LR-115. Type II Solid State Nuclear Track Detector (SSNTD) It Senses and Signals Radon Thoron Twin Chamber Dosimeter System .

 The ASPFs used in conjunction with Proportional Counter (ASPFs may also be used alone even) for the fieldwork involving radon emanation. bottom fitted with an ASPF of size ca. . A simple device consisting of plastic cup of about 10 cm height. 3 cm diameter. 2 cm x 2 cm while open mouth is covered with a plastic membrane to eliminate thoron and water condensation.

 In another version. Alpha particles from radon decay are registered. . Samplers are buried at the site of study about 1m to few tens of meters below earth’s surface. each composed by a thin ASPF (normally LR-115 or CR-39) placed in a 30 cm long PVC tube. radon measurement in soils are carried out by means of a sampler. inside a second 1 m long PVC tube of bigger diameter.

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Emanometry Technique .

Groundwater Emanometry .

Soil-Gas Emanometry .

Radon in soil-air investigations using additional source of radon voluntarily implanted at experimental sites show that radon anomalies are primarily due. Besides some other pre-cursors. the behaviour of terrestrial gases have been extensively studied in recent years in seismically active regions. temperature. if not exclusively.. rain-fall and relative humidity which help decide the true changes in radon concentration unaffected by environmental disturbances. to deeper fluid motion acting as transport vectors. the measurement of subsurface radon may prove to be a useful tool in forecasting eruptions.RADON AS PRECURSOR : MECHANISMS AND MODELS   EXPERIMENTAL REPORTS ON RADON AS A PRECURSOR Various anomalies in the domains of geochemical and hydrological traits preceding earthquakes have been reported since 1960. wind velocity.   .  Such anomalies have acquired and played a significant role in predicting such events and have also become a part of monitoring seismic activity world wide. Soil gas concentration and in particular. pressure. The daily and long –term integrated measurement of radon are carried out in soil and in ground water alongwith various meteorological parameters viz.

1976.    Integrated radon signals have also been found to vary considerably prior to an earthquake. Similarly. (1972) and King (1978). Since 1927. radon is known to be associated with gases in fumaroles and thermal springs.1981). Cox and Cuff. it is now known that increase in volcanic activities are also accompanied by a substantial increase in radon concentration (Chirkov. The analysis of radon emission and earthquake occurrence can be traced back to an analytical investigation made by Okabe (1956) where it was established that there existed a positive correlation between the daily variation of atmospheric radon content near the ground surface and the local seismic activity at Tottori. Japan. The fact that radon signals can be related to earth stresses was first put forward by Sodovsky et al. Radon is constantly emanated from the earth in minute quantities and larger emanations have been found either prior to an approaching earthquake or after the event had passed. . It was found that the radon content in water samples drawn from a deep well changed before the occurrence of an earthquake.

1998.    There are large number of reports available providing evidence of radon anomalies (2 to 3 folds the normal range of seasonal. and soil as precursory to earthquakes of moderate to large magnitudes (See for example. Ulomov and Mavashev (1967) had also found that the radon concentration in a deep acquifier had changed even a year before an earthquake of intensity 5. Monin and Seidel (1991) have described an experiment involving a network of 35 in-soil measuring stations operating track detectors of radon in the southern part of Ecuador where radon was constantly measured and monitored for nine months. Kraner et al. Talwani et al. It is interesting to note that at the time of the event. It was found that 14 stations out of 35 produced a clear abnormal signal at the same time in spite of the fact that they were scattered over an area of 400 km2 and a few of them also showed negative anomalies as reported by others (Cai et al.Singh et al.1964.1985). An earthquake of M6.1980.Virk et al. However. it is of interest to note that even reports confirming the fall in concentration of radon prior to earthquake are also available (Birchard et al.1991. no visible changes in the atmospheric parameters were observed which could have been used as an explanation to the happening of the event. King 1985.1984. monthly or yearly variations) in ground water.1 occurred near Reventador.Wakita et al.) Earlier.. .1980).3 occurred in Tashkent.

1990). . Increased levels of radon gas (222Rn) in wells is a precursor of earthquakes recognized by the IASPEI. 2003). (U.Koch & Jens Heinicke. (Setal. Spring water and soil radon gas monitoring: A search for possible precursors of earthquake activity in the Marmara region (NW) Inan. 2001). Spring at Bad Brambach (Vogtland. Data collected along the Hayward and Anatolian faults near Berkeley. Connection between the radon concentration in groundwater and springs and earthquakes might be used for earthquake prediction by using ionisation chamber (Friedmann and Hernegger. California convincingly supports the notion that a relationship between radon outgassing and seismic activity does indeed exists (Holtmann-Rice and Cuff. 1994) and radon levels in Ground water in in the southern part of Nishinomiya city. Japan (Igarashi. Germany).     Anomalous changes in radon concentration before an earthquake suggest that radon monitoring can serve as an additional technique in the earthquake prediction programme (Virk et al. 1995). 2003).

Atkinson and Wilkins (1979) had confirmed experimentally that geological materials can suffer crack growth at very low strain rates in the presence of high humidity while mechanism of stress corrosion suggests that the occurrence of radon variations may depend upon strain rate and local conditions like rock type. Haukson and Goddard (1981) have given an empirical relationship between magnitude M and distance D where an earthquake can be predicted on the basis of radon anomalies as M = 2. Initially. temperature.5 log 10D . It is argued that crack growth by stress corrosion should precede any mechanical crating in a wet environment.43 . the Dilatancy Diffusion Model and several other similar models suggested that radon anomalies were related to mechanical crack growth in the volume of dilatancy.0. mathematical modelling and insitu hydraulic experiments have also been described but the physical mechanisms responsible for these variations are still under investigation. or to changes in the flow rate of ground water. pattern of micro earthquakes. degree of saturation. elasticity of the media present.PROPOSED MECHANISMS AND MODELS      Although several constraints from laboratory experiments. stress intensity factors and other hydraulic properties. Another model suggests that the radon anomalies be due to slow crack growth controlled by stress corrosion in a rock matrix saturated by ground water.

Such behaviour is likely to support the PORE COLLAPSE (PC) model generating an upward motion of pore fluids acting as radon careers. On radon origin various competitive models have been discussed and number of successful earthquake predictions have been made by measuring pre and post –seismic events as a function of time period and environmental parameters. a theoretical model. devised on the basis of analysis of transient states show that large amounts of radon are expected to show during a short duration prior to an earthquake or an eruption. King (1985) had suggested Compression Mechanism for radon release according to which the anomalous high radon concentration may be due to an increase in crustal compression before an impending earthquake that squeezes out the soil gas into the atmosphere at an enhanced rate which in turn may perturb the vertical subsurface radon concentration profile such that the deeper soil gas having more radon is brought to the detection level. However.    .

India.    Thomas (1988) suggested a model on radon anomalies in ground water based upon the phenomenon. The experiment conducted by Tidjani et al. (1964) and later by Fleischer and Mogro-Campero (1979). (1991) have also reported on the occurrence of an earthquake of magnitude M3. (1990) is worth mentioning which established that the behaviour shown is an evidence of a mechanism based upon the variation of pore fluids motion induced by stresses occurring at depth rather than by a dramatic sudden increase of radon released from the bedrock.. . Singh et al. The substantial variations observed in the nature are due to the fact that radon is transported at faster or slower rate by careers.1975. Himachal Pradesh.8 at an epicentral distance of 100 to 400 km at Amritsar and Kangra valley. microfracturing prior to major seismic events is responsible for precursory increases in ion and gas concentrations. The variations can be explained quantitatively by using the curves as proposed by Kraner et al. It was concluded that observed radon anomalies were mainly earthquake related and the observed radon concentration patterns during the earthquake events are similar and may be explained by the IPE Model suggested by Mjachkin et al. According to this model.the Increased Reactive Surface Area (IRSA) model.

. the radon in case of anomalies correlated with a geophysical event may be considered having two possible originseither it comes from a deep origin( the degassing of the magma in case of a volcanic eruption or the crushing of uranium rich minerals of the bedrock in case of an earthquake) or only being locally displaced by other pore fluids whose motion is triggered by the forthcoming event. By and large.

further investigations have shown that the method is not as straight forward as it seemed. . successful short-term earthquake prediction has so far been difficult to obtain.  Possible correlation between pre-seismic or pre-eruptive radon concentration anomalies and actual events have been an issue of serious discussion among the scientific community and the first reaction to the positive results triggered some hope that a simple method was on the verge of reliable utilization. This is likely because:   The processes that cause earthquakes occur deep beneath the surface and are difficult to monitor. However. thus no consistent patterns have so far been recognized. Earthquakes in different regions or along different faults all behave differently.CONCLUSION  Despite the array of possible precursor events that are possible to monitor.

comes from a rather small region from the point of probing. if not all of it. Post-earthquake anomalies also address a question to the scientific community. there does not exist exact formulation and correlation that completely fits the radon data so as to use it as a reliable precursor in the matters relating to volcanic eruption or seismic activity.    .  Most of the radon anomalies are correlatable with seismic events and are precursory in nature. a monumental scientific and technological achievement. However. Need not to be overemphasized that more experimentation work and a wider database on radon anomalies are required to clinch the issue of use of radon as a precursor. and if attained. Earthquake prediction is one of the most rewarding scientific challenges. The opinion which has emerged is that radon measured in the top soil is due to the local origin and most of the part. soils structure and laboratory experiments. This statement is based upon a critical analysis of radon physical properties.

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