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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Anthropogenic radionuclides for estimating rates of soil redistribution by wind

item Van Pelt, Robert
item Ketterer, Michael -
item Ritchie, Jerry
item Zobeck, Teddy

Submitted to: International Soil Conservation Organization Conference Abstracts
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: August 27, 2010
Publication Date: November 13, 2010
Citation: Van Pelt, R.S., Ketterer, M., Ritchie, J.C., Zobeck, T.M. 2010. Anthropogenic radionuclides for estimating rates of soil redistribution by wind[abstract]. International Soil Conservation Organization Conference. November 7-13, 2010, Santiago, Chile.

Technical Abstract: Erosion of soil by wind and water is a degrading process that affects millions of hectares worldwide. Atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons and the resulting fallout of anthropogenic radioisotopes, particularly Cesium 137, has made possible the estimation of mean soil redistribution rates. The peak fallout levels occurred in the early 1960s. Cesium 137 has a relatively short half-life of 30.2 years, limiting its use for future studies. Radioisotopes of Plutonium were also created during the period of atmospheric testing and were deposited onto the earth’s surface at 1/25th the rate of Cesium 137. The half-lives of Plutonium 239 and Plutonium 240 are 24,100 years and 6,500 years, respectively, making them ideal tracers for future erosion estimates. Further, the ratio of these two isotopes is easily measurable and may be used to validate the contribution from stratospheric fallout rather than from local sources of contamination. We sampled a system of locations with documented wind erosion and deposition histories by depth and analyzed the samples for Cesium 137 and for Plutonium 239+240. Models developed for Cesium 137 predicted redistribution rates very well when a particle size correction factor of 1.18 was used for eroding surfaces. Plutonium 239+240 activities and distribution patterns correlated very well with those of Cesium 137, strongly indicating the usefulness of these radioisotopes for future studies of soil redistribution in semi-arid environments.

Last Modified: 6/29/2016
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