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Potassium isotope fractionation during high-temperature evaporation determined from the Trinity nuclear test

TitlePotassium isotope fractionation during high-temperature evaporation determined from the Trinity nuclear test
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsChen H., Meshik A.P, Pravdivtseva O.V, Day JMD, Wang K.
Date Published2019/09
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number0009-2541
Accession NumberWOS:000480330600007
KeywordsAbundances; ca-41; earth; elements; Geochemistry & Geophysics; lunar; mc-icp-ms; Moon; Nuclear detonation; origin; Potassium isotopes; Trinitite; Trinity test site; Volatile loss; zinc

Trinitite materials are the post-detonation glassy residues formed from melting and evaporation of arkosic sands during the first nuclear detonation at the Trinity test site, New Mexico on 16th July, 1945. These trinitites provide useful materials for studying elemental and isotopic behaviors associated with high temperature melting and evaporation that is otherwise difficult to achieve under laboratory conditions. Using a high-precision method, we measured the potassium (K) isotopic compositions of six bulk trinitite samples taken at different distances from the epicenter of detonation of the Gadget (ground zero). 15 leachates and etchates of trinitite samples were also analyzed to examine the distribution of K within the samples. All trinitites but IF_m (taken within 10 m from the epicenter) show no resolvable K loss and span a narrow range in K isotopic compositions (delta K-41: -0.42 +/- 0.05 parts per thousand to -0.48 +/- 0.05 parts per thousand), revealing no discernible K isotopic fractionation from the Bulk Silicate Earth (BSE) value (-0.48 +/- 0.03 parts per thousand). Residues and etchates of the trinitite material are identical in composition to the bulk samples implying that K isotopes were homogeneous within the arkosic sand at the Trinity test site prior to the nuclear detonation. The most strongly melted green trinitite IF_m, is the only trinitite that shows loss of K (similar to 7%) coupled with a resolvable heavier K isotope composition (0.2 parts per thousand higher in delta K-41 than the BSE value). This coupled K loss and isotopic fractionation corresponds to a fractionation factor (alpha(vapor-melt)) between 0.995 and 0.998 during the Trinity nuclear detonation. These results confirm that K isotopic fractionation occurs through evaporation processes at high temperatures. We also show that, compared with Zn isotopes measured in the same samples, the isotopes of K were significantly less fractionated during evaporation, indicating that K is less volatile during processes such as magma ocean degassing, volcanic outgassing, and impact volatile loss. Our findings support the concept that the heavy K isotopic composition observed in lunar mare basalts reflects the primary signature imprinted by the Moon-forming giant impact event.

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