The dynamics of Rn-222 cyclic flow within the shallow geological subsurface media as a daily temporal variated source for exhalation into the air

Ayelet Benkovitz, Hovav Zafrir, Yuval Reuveni

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2 Scopus citations


Extensive research on the dynamics of radon gas (Rn-222) originating from the radioactive decay of radium (Ra-226) in geological subsurface media, sheds light on its periodic release into the atmosphere. Radon is a product of the uranium-238 decay chain found within rock and soil grains. While only a fraction of the generated radon escapes (emanates) into porous spaces due to nuclear recoil, it serves as the source for subsurface gas flows and for cyclic exhalation into the soil-atmosphere interface. Ongoing study of radon movement in shallow and deep subsoil, and its emergence at the surface, reveals complete semi-diurnal, diurnal, and seasonal gas flow cycles in the subsoil. Complementary emissions occur nocturnally as radon is released into the atmosphere. Moreover, two natural driving forces govern complex semi-diurnal and diurnal flows below and above the surface. Subsurface gas movement in porous media exhibits nonlinear behavior influenced by surface temperature gradients, resulting in downward flow to depths of up to 100 m. This flow exhibits daily periodicity with depth-dependent time delays, correlating with the diurnal surface temperature cycle. Additionally, pore gas transport into and out of open boreholes responds linearly to semi-diurnal barometric pressure changes, known as barometric pumping. Beyond subsurface phenomena, Europe and Australia increasingly employ nocturnal radon measurements to study atmospheric stability and air quality, assuming that variations in local stationary near-surface radon concentrations reflect atmospheric mixing processes. Recognizing mechanisms governing radon's temporal changes within geological subsurface media highlights the need for continuous underground radon monitoring to validate variations in daily radon exhalation to the surface. On the other hand, monitoring radon at considerable depths minimizes climatic contributions and enhances the ability to discern non-periodic pre-seismic radon signals, independent of atmospheric compulsion. This research offers potential insights into seismic precursors and the complex interplay between subsurface geodynamics and atmospheric conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number169244
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - 20 Feb 2024


  • Exponential correlation to daily climatic surface temperature
  • Radon cyclical signals undulate by ambient parameters
  • Radon flow from porous media to the atmosphere
  • Underground radon signals


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