Release of radiogenic noble gases as a new signal of rock deformation

Stephen J. Bauer, W. Payton Gardner, Hyunwoo Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


In this study we investigate the release of radiogenic noble gas isotopes during mechanical deformation. We developed an analytical system for dynamic mass spectrometry of noble gas composition and helium release rate of gas produced during mechanical deformation of rocks. Our results indicate that rocks release accumulated radiogenic helium and argon from mineral grains as they undergo deformation. We found that the release of accumulated 4He and 40Ar from rocks follows a reproducible pattern and can provide insight into the deformation process. Increased gas release can be observed before dilation, and macroscopic failure is observed during high-pressure triaxial rock deformation experiments. Accumulated radiogenic noble gases can be released due to fracturing of mineral grains during small-scale strain in Earth materials. Helium and argon are highly mobile, conservative species and could be used to provide information on changes in the state of stress and strain in Earth materials, and as an early warning signal of macroscopic failure. These results pave the way for the use of noble gases to trace and monitor rock deformation for earthquake prediction and a variety of other subsurface engineering projects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10,688-10,694
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 28 2016


  • deformation
  • gas release
  • geomechanics
  • mass spectrometry
  • noble gases
  • tracers


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