RadFlux David Benavente

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David Benavente


Quantification and modelling of radon transport in soils. Assessment of its potential risk and use as a natural geochemical tracer

Proyecto RTI2018-099052-B-I00 (2019-2022)



There is a growing scientific and social interest in studies concerning the presence, concentration and flow of radon in soils. 222Rn has uniquely an abiotic and radiogenic origin as well as being inert, which differs from other soil gases (CO2 and CH4) of biotic and/or abiotic origin. As a consequence, 222Rn is an important geochemical tracer in Earth Sciences, which is used for monitoring greenhouse gas emissions, environmental and geological hazards. By contrast, the 222Rn exhaled from the subsurface penetrates into buildings or underground facilities and it becomes a potential health hazard when it is inhaled. Despite this public health problem, the Royal Legislative Decree of the Technical Building Code, on the contrary of other European countries, does not consider the study of soil properties, radon concentration neither the potential risk. It is due to the complexity that presents both the measurement of radon concentration and its spatial and temporal variability in the soil.

The study of radon in soils presents several problems mainly due to the strong spatio-temporal variations of 222Rn concentration, which can affect the determination of the potential risk of radon exposure and its use as geochemical tracer. At local and regional scale, 222Rn fluxes from the surface are strongly influenced by the textural (pore structure) and composition variability of soils, the presence of both natural (e.g.: faults and fracture zones) and anthropic anomalies, and the climatic conditions. The proposed research project focuses on establishing and quantifying –through a methodological-experimental approach– the physical mechanisms that control the 222Rn and other soil gases transport through the pore system of soil due to changes in the environmental conditions.

The project, therefore, needs a multidisciplinary methodology that includes:
1) to quantify the influence of the physical properties, textural characteristics and water content of soil on the effective flux of 222Rn from soil to atmosfere.
2) to characterise the chemical and isotopic composition of soil gases and determine their dynamic and relationship with 222Rn in different geological contexts.
3) to establish both in the field and lab methodology, in order to classify the radon risk in terms of physical properties and concentration of soil radon.
4) to elaborate a theoretical model that interprets the spatio-temporal variations of 222Rn exhalation from the soil.

These findings would allow to characterize the geochemical behaviour of 222Rn and other gases and determine their similarities for each geological context. The proposed research will have a practical application and a technology transfer to both detections of geochemical anomalies and radon risk classification of the most common soils, which will be useful to elaborate strategies for the measurement, mitigation and performance in buildings and in new constructions.

Applied Petrology Group, Earth and Environmental Sciences Department, University of Alicante

Dr. D. Benavente (PI of the project)
Dr. I. Blanco Quintero
Dr. JC. Cañaveras
Dr. J. Cuevas
Dr. MA. García del Cura
Dr. S. Ordóñez
M. Sáez

Department of Civil Engineering, Universidad de Alicante

Dr. C. Pla
Dr. J. Valdés-Abellan

University Institute of Physics Applied to Sciences and Technologies, University of Alicante

Dr. JJ. Galiana.

Department of Geology, MNCN-CSIC

Dr. S. Sánchez-Moral

Departament of Biology and Geology, Universidad de Almería

Dr. A. Fernández-Cortés.

School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin

Dr. Q.G. Crowley

Deptartament of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering, ETH Zurich

Dr. J. Jiménez-Martínez

INESC Technology and Science, University of Porto

Dr. S. Barbosa




This project is supported by the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities.