The effects of a hydrogen-rich ground cover on cosmogenic thermal neutrons: Implications for exposure dating

T.J. Dunai, S.A. Binnie, A.S. Hein, S.M. Paling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

We present results of thermal neutron flux measurements in experimental granite piles that were tailored to study the effect of hydrogen-rich covers on that flux. We find that hydrogen-rich covers (polyethylene, water), used as proxies for snow, dead and/or live plant matter, increase the thermal neutron flux in an underlying rock surface significantly, as compared to the state without cover. The rock serves as the main source for thermal neutrons, the hydrogen-rich cover as a neutron reflector. In situations where the thickness of such a cover would be negligible in terms of high-energy neutron (>10 MeV) attenuation, e.g. 2-3 cm water equivalent cover, a significant enhancement of the thermal neutron flux (factor >2.5 ± 0.5) can be achieved. This increase is made up of three components (Masarik et al., 2007): (1) reflected thermal neutrons (albedo neutrons), (2) moderated fast neutrons from the ground, and (3) moderated fast neutrons from the atmospheric cascade (Masarik et al., 2007). The higher thermal neutron flux increases the production rates of those cosmogenic nuclides that have a significant thermal neutron production pathway (He, Cl, Ca). Ignoring this effect in situations where target nuclei (Li, Cl, Ca) are abundant will severely underestimate production rates. The effect of hydrogen-rich ground cover on the thermal neutron flux has the potential to be used for studies that are aimed at reconstructing the persistence of past plant/snow cover. Isotopic ratios of spallogenic versus predominantly thermal neutron produced nuclides, would reveal the presence or absence of hydrogen-rich cover in the past as compared to the present-day situation.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages9
JournalQuaternary Geochronology
Early online date22 Jan 2013
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Cosmogenic nuclide
  • Neutron flux
  • Snow cover
  • Plant cover
  • Production rate


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