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Iron-rich microstructure records of high temperature multi-component silicate melt behavior in nuclear fallout


Above-ground nuclear explosions that interact with the surface of the earth entrain materials from the surrounding environment, influencing the resulting physical and chemical evolution of the fireball, which can affect the final chemical phase and mobility of hazardous radionuclides that are dispersed in the environment as fallout particles. The interaction of iron with a nuclear explosion is of specific interest due to the potential for iron to act as a redox buffer and because of the likelihood of significant masses of metals to be present in urban environments. We investigated fallout from a historic surface interacting nuclear explosion conducted on a steel tower and report the discovery of widespread and diverse iron-rich micro-structures preserved within the samples, including crystalline dendrites and micron-scale iron-rich spheres with liquid immiscibility textures. We assert these micro-structures reflect local redox conditions and cooling rates and can inform interpretation of high temperature events, enabling new insights into fireball condensation physics and chemistry when metals from the local environment (i.e. structural steel) are vaporized or entrained. These observations also significantly expand the availability of silicate immiscibility datasets applicable to rapidly quenched systems such as meteorite impact melt glass.

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