Journal of Cave and Karst Studies - ISSN 0146-9517
Volume 59 Number 3: 103-105 -December 1997

A publication of the National Speleological Society

Generation of Cave Aerosols by Alpha Particles: Critical Evaluation of the Hypothesis
Serguei E. Pashenko and Yuri V. Dublyansky


The paper evaluates the feasibility of the hypothetical mechanism of cave aerosols generation under the action of natural radioactivity. Analysis has been performed from the standpoints of nuclear physics and aerosol mechanics. The hypothetical mechanism involves dislodgment of atoms and ions and knocking-out of larger fragments due to the bombardment of the bedrock by alpha-particles residing in the cave air. Calculations show that the largest amount of atoms and ions that could be generated by alpha-bombardment does not exceed 0.1 g from 1000 m2 of the cave surface per 1 million years a quite negligible value. Presence of any water film thicker than 0.1 micron on the cave wall would completely prevent the dislodgment. The hypothetical mechanism, though physically plausible, cannot play any essential role in the generation of cave aerosols, and much less in the formation of speleothems.

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