The European Physical Journal Special Topics

, Volume 224, Issue 4, pp 717–730

Using radon as environmental tracer for the assessment of subsurface Non-Aqueous Phase Liquid (NAPL) contamination – A review


DOI: 10.1140/epjst/e2015-02402-3

Cite this article as:
Schubert, M. Eur. Phys. J. Spec. Top. (2015) 224: 717. doi:10.1140/epjst/e2015-02402-3
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Radon Applications in Geosciences - Progress & Perspectives


The radioactive noble gas radon has an ambivalent nature: on the one hand is it of main concern with regard to radiation protection, on the other hand can it be applied as powerful tracer tool in various fields of applied geosciences. Due to its omnipresence in nature, its chemical and physical properties, and its uncomplicated detectability radon fulfils all requirements for being used as environmental tracer. This application is discussed in the paper with focus on the use of radon as tracer for subsurface contamination with Non-Aqueous Phase Liquids (NAPL). After a short introduction in the ambivalence and ubiquitous presence of radon in nature, the theoretical background of its suitability as NAPL tracer is summarized. Finally three potential applications are discussed. Background information and practical examples are given for (i) the investigation of residual NAPL contamination in soils, (ii) the investigation of residual NAPL contamination in aquifers and (iii) the monitoring of the remediation of dissolved NAPL contamination in groundwater. The presented information reveals that radon is an ideal tracer for the assessment of a wide range of subsurface NAPL contamination. Still, its application is not without restrictions. Problems may occur due to mineralogical heterogeneity of the soil or aquifer matrix. Furthermore, local changes in the permeability of the subsurface may be associated with preferential groundwater or soil gas flow paths bypassing isolated sub-domains of an investigated NAPL source zone. Moreover, NAPL aging may result in alterations in the composition of a complex NAPL mixture thus giving rise to significant changes of the radon partition coefficient between NAPL and water or soil gas. However, since radon shows a strong affinity to NAPLs in general, semi-quantitative results will always be possible.

Copyright information

© EDP Sciences and Springer 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UFZ Helmholtz Centre for Environmental ResearchLeipzigGermany

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