Tritium in Australian precipitation: a 50 year record

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Elsevier B. V.
Tritium in precipitation has been measured in Australia over the past 50 years, as an essential research tool in hydro-climate studies, and to contribute to the Global Network for Isotopes in Precipitation (GNIP). Tritium, a component of the water molecule (HTO), is the only true age tracer for waters. The elevated level of tritium in the environment as a result of last century’s atmospheric thermonuclear testing delivers the benefit of tracing groundwater systems over a 100 year timeframe. The concentration of tritium in Australian precipitation reached a maximum of 160 Tritium Units (TU) in 1963, during one of the most intense periods of nuclear weapons testing. From 1963 to present we observe a rapid drop in the concentration of tritium, more than expected from natural decay, and this can be attributed to the wash out of tritium into the oceans and groundwater. Spikes in the tritium level are superimposed over this general trend; the first around 1969, with levels ranging from 39.4 to 84.4 TU was due to French atmospheric weapon testing, and again in 1990, levels peaked between 6.6 and 12.9 TU, which is attributed to tritium leaking from underground tests in the French Pacific. Since 1990 the levels of tritium have declined globally and regionally. Currently the levels of tritium in Australia are stabilising to around 2–3 TU increasing with latitude across the continent, suggesting that today the tritium in precipitation is predominantly natural. The spatial distribution of tritium is presented and found to be dominated by the annual stratosphere–troposphere exchange in combination with latitude and continental effects. A precipitation amount effect is also observed for inland sites. Crown Copyright © 2014 Published by Elsevier B.V.
Tritium, Ground water, Precipitation, Australia, Nuclear test sites, Tracer techniques, Decay, France, Pacific Ocean
Tadros, C. V., Hughes, C. E., Crawford, J., Hollins, S. E., & Chisari, R. (2014). Tritium in Australian precipitation: A 50 year record. Journal of Hydrology, 513, 262-273. doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2014.03.031