A mechanism for anomalous decline in radon precursory to an earthquake

M. C.Tom Kuo, K. Fan, H. Kuochen, W. Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Mechanisms for interpreting anomalous decreases in radon in ground water prior to earthquakes are examined with the help of a case study to show that radon potentially is a sensitive tracer of strain changes in the crust preceding an earthquake. The 2003 Chengkung earthquake of magnitude (M) 6.8 on December 10, 2003, was the strongest earthquake near the Chengkung area in eastern Taiwan since 1951. The Antung radon-monitoring station was located 20 km from the epicenter. Approximately 65 d prior to the 2003 Chengkung earthquake, precursory changes in radon concentration in ground water were observed. Specifically, radon decreased from a background level of 780 pCi/L to a minimum of 330 pCi/L. The Antung hot spring is situated in a fractured block of tuffaceous sandstone surrounded by ductile mudstone. Given these geological conditions, we hypothesized that the dilation of brittle rock mass occurred at a rate faster than the recharge of pore water and gas saturation developed in newly created cracks preceding the earthquake. Radon partitioning into the gas phase may explain the anomalous decrease of radon precursory to the 2003 Chengkung earthquake. To support the hypothesis, vapor-liquid, two-phase radon-partitioning experiments were conducted at formation temperature (60°C) using formation brine from the Antung hot spring. Experimental data indicated that the decrease in radon required a gas saturation of 10% developed in rock cracks. The observed decline in radon can be correlated with the increase in gas saturation and then with the volumetric strain change for a given fracture porosity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)642-647
Number of pages6
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2006


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