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Mass Transport of Condensed Species in Aerodynamic Fallout Glass from a Near-Surface Nuclear Test


In a near-surface nuclear explosion, vaporized device materials are incorporated into molten soil and other carrier materials, forming glassy fallout upon quenching. Mechanisms by which device materials mix with carrier materials have been proposed, however, the specific mechanisms and physical conditions by which soil and other carrier materials interact in the fireball, as well as the subsequent incorporation of device materials with carrier materials, are not well constrained. A surface deposition layer was observed preserved at interfaces where two aerodynamic fallout glasses agglomerated and fused. Eleven such boundaries were studied using spatially resolved analyses to better understand the vaporization and condensation behavior of species in the fireball. Using nano-scale secondary ion mass spectrometry (NanoSIMS), we identified higher concentrations of uranium from the device in 7 of the interface layers, as well as isotopic enrichment (>75% 235U) in 9 of the interface layers. Major element analysis of the interfaces revealed the deposition layer to be chemically enriched in Fe-, Ca- and Na-bearing species and depleted in Ti- and Al-bearing species. The concentration profiles of the enriched species at the interface are characteristic of diffusion. Three of the uranium concentration profiles were fit with a modified Gaussian function, representative of 1-D diffusion from a planar source, to determine time and temperature parameters of mass transport. By using a historical model of fireball temperature to simulate the cooling rate at the interface, the temperature of deposition was estimated to be ∼2200 K, with 1σ uncertainties in excess of 140 K. The presence of Na-species in the layers at this estimated temperature of deposition is indicative of an oxygen rich fireball. The notable depletion of Al-species, a refractory oxide that is highly abundant in the soil, together with the enrichment of Ca-, Fe-, and 235U-species, suggests an anthropogenic source of the enriched species, together with a continuous chemical fractionation process as these species condensed.

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