Fission-Track Annealing: From Geologic Observations to Thermal History Modeling

  • Richard A. KetchamEmail author
Part of the Springer Textbooks in Earth Sciences, Geography and Environment book series (STEGE)


This chapter reviews the evolving state of knowledge concerning fission-track (FT) annealing, primarily in apatite and zircon, based on theory, experiments, and geological observations. Multiple insights into track structure, formation, and evolution arise from transmission electron microscopy, small-angle X-ray scattering, atomic force microscopy, and molecular dynamics computer modeling. Our principal knowledge, however, comes from experiments in which spontaneous or induced tracks are annealed, etched, and measured, the results statistically fitted, and their predictions compared against geological benchmarks. This empirical approach has proven effective and resilient, though physical understanding remains an ultimate goal. The precise mechanism by which lattice damage anneals, and how it varies among minerals and damage types, remains unknown. Multiple similarities between apatite and zircon suggest equivalent underlying processes. Both minerals demonstrate annealing anisotropy, and its characterization is crucial for understanding both track shortening and density reduction. The fanning curvilinear equation, featuring curved iso-annealing lines on an Arrhenius-type diagram, has been the most successful for matching data spanning timescales from seconds to hundreds of millions of years. A super-model featuring a single set of iso-annealing lines describes all apatite experimental data to date. Annealing rates vary with both anion and cation substitutions, and more work is required to ascertain how these substitutions interact. Other areas for further research include differences between spontaneous and induced tracks, and possible additional processes affecting length and density evolution, such as seasoning. Thermal history inversion simultaneously leverages and tests our models, and accounting for kinetic variation is key for doing it soundly.



I thank M. Tamer for help with data transcription for drafting figures, and R. Yamada for providing the zircon FT length data. Thorough and thoughtful reviews by the editors, T. Tagami, and particularly R. Jonckheere, helped improve the manuscript.


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geological Sciences, Jackson School of GeosciencesUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

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