Use of anthropogenic radioisotopes to estimate rates of soil redistribution by wind II: The potential for future use of 239+240Pu

R. Scott Van Pelt, Michael E. Ketterer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


In the previous paper, the use of soilborne 137Cs from atmospheric fallout to estimate rates of soil redistribution, particularly by wind, was reviewed. This method relies on the assumption that the source of 137Cs in the soil profile is from atmospheric fallout following the period of atmospheric weapons testing so that the temporal and, to a certain extent, the spatial patterns of 137Cs deposition are known. One of the major limitations occurs when local or regional sources of 137Cs contamination mask the pulse from global fallout, making temporal estimates of redistribution difficult or impossible. Like 137Cs, Pu exhibits strong affinity for binding to soil particle surfaces, and therefore, re-distribution of Pu inventory indicates inferred soil re-distribution. Compared to 137Cs, 239Pu and 240Pu offer several important advantages: (a) the two major Pu isotopes have much longer half-lives than 137Cs and (b) the ratio 240Pu/239Pu is used to examine whether the Pu is from stratospheric fallout. In this paper, we review the literature concerning Pu in soil and of current attempts to use this tracer to estimate rates of soil redistribution. We also present preliminary, unpublished data from a pilot study designed to test whether or not 239+240Pu can be used to estimate rates of soil redistribution by wind. Based on similarities of profile distribution and relative inventories between 137Cs measurements and 239+240Pu measurements of split samples from a series of fields with documented wind erosion histories, we conclude that 239+240Pu may well be the anthropogenic radioisotope of choice for future soil redistribution investigations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)103-110
Number of pages8
JournalAeolian Research
StatePublished - Jun 2013


  • Cs
  • Global fallout
  • Pu
  • Radioisotopes
  • Soil redistribution
  • Wind erosion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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