Real-time setup to measure radon emission during rock deformation: implications for geochemical surveillance
Abstract. Laboratory experiments can represent a valid approach to unravel the complex interplay between the geochemical behaviour of radon and rock deformation mechanisms. In light of this, we present a new real-time experimental setup for analysing in continuum the alpha-emitting 222Rn and 220Rn daughters over variable stress–strain regimes. The most innovative segment of this setup consists of the radon accumulation chamber obtained from a tough and durable material that can host large cylindrical rock samples. The accumulation chamber is connected, in a closed-loop configuration, to a gas-drying unit and to a RAD7 radon monitor. A recirculating pump moves the gas from the rock sample to a solid-state detector for alpha counting of radon and thoron progeny. The measured radon signal is enhanced by surrounding the accumulation chamber with a digitally controlled heating belt. As the temperature is increased, the number of effective collisions of radon atoms increases favouring the diffusion of radon through the material and reducing the analytical uncertainty. The accumulation chamber containing the sample is then placed into a uniaxial testing apparatus where the axial deformation is measured throughout a linear variable displacement transducer. A dedicated software allows obtaining a variety of stress–strain regimes from fast deformation rates to long-term creep tests. Experiments conducted with this new real-time setup have important ramifications for the interpretation of geochemical anomalies recorded prior to volcanic eruptions or earthquakes.