Calculating flux to predict future cave radon concentrations

Matt D. Rowberry, Xavi Marti, Carlos Frontera, Marco J. Van De Wiel, Miloš Briestenský

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    Cave radon concentration measurements reflect the outcome of a perpetual competition which pitches flux against ventilation and radioactive decay. The mass balance equations used to model changes in radon concentration through time routinely treat flux as a constant. This mathematical simplification is acceptable as a first order approximation despite the fact that it sidesteps an intrinsic geological problem: the majority of radon entering a cavity is exhaled as a result of advection along crustal discontinuities whose motions are inhomogeneous in both time and space. In this paper the dynamic nature of flux is investigated and the results are used to predict cave radon concentration for successive iterations. The first part of our numerical modelling procedure focuses on calculating cave air flow velocity while the second part isolates flux in a mass balance equation to simulate real time dependence among the variables. It is then possible to use this information to deliver an expression for computing cave radon concentration for successive iterations. The dynamic variables in the numerical model are represented by the outer temperature, the inner temperature, and the radon concentration while the static variables are represented by the radioactive decay constant and a range of parameters related to geometry of the cavity. Input data were recorded at Driny Cave in the Little Carpathians Mountains of western Slovakia. Here the cave passages have developed along splays of the NE–SW striking Smolenice Fault and a series of transverse faults striking NW–SE. Independent experimental observations of fault slip are provided by three permanently installed mechanical extensometers. Our numerical modelling has revealed four important flux anomalies between January 2010 and August 2011. Each of these flux anomalies was preceded by conspicuous fault slip anomalies. The mathematical procedure outlined in this paper will help to improve our understanding of radon migration along crustal discontinuities and its subsequent exhalation into the atmosphere. Furthermore, as it is possible to supply the model with continuous data, future research will focus on establishing a series of underground monitoring sites with the aim of generating the first real time global radon flux maps.

    Publisher Statement: NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Journal of Environmental Radioactivity. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, [157, (2016)] DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvrad.2016.02.023

    © 2016, Elsevier. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)16-26
    Number of pages10
    JournalJournal of Environmental Radioactivity
    Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2016


    • Cave radon concentration
    • Cave radon flux
    • Cave ventilation
    • Radioactive decay
    • Fault slip
    • Numerical modelling


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