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Nuclear-blast induced nanotextures in quartz and zircon within Trinitite

Aaron J. Lussier, Sergei Rouvimov, Peter C. Burns and Antonio Simonetti
Nuclear-blast induced nanotextures in quartz and zircon within Trinitite
American Mineralogist (February 2017) 102 (2): 445-460


The intense heat and pressure resulting from the detonation of the world's first nuclear device in the New Mexico desert, July 16, 1945, severely altered the arkosic sand, producing the fused, glassy material referred to as Trinitite. The study of Trinitite is key to the development of nuclear forensic techniques that can provide crucial information about a nuclear event, such as device composition and radionuclide distribution. Moreover, nuclear blasts are often considered analogs to catastrophic natural events such as meteorite impacts, and it is well-documented that with increasing impact severity, zircon and quartz grains deform systematically. In Trinitite, a sufficient number of primary quartz and zircon grains remain identifiable. Here, a multi-technique approach (focused ion beam, scanning electron microscopy, transmission electron microscopy, and micro-Raman spectroscopy) is employed to study the micrometer-to-nanometer-scale deformation features in altered grains of zircon and quartz to constrain blast pressure and temperature conditions. Trinitite zircon grains consistently show an outer halo of fibrous baddeleyite, radiating from a relatively unaltered core; HRTEM images show complex twinning, likely originating from an intermediate, tetragonal zirconia precursor. Trinitite quartz grains show various states of melting that appear to vary predictably with depth below the surface of the desert sand. Grains occurring deeper than approximately 1.5 cm are crystalline, with occasional planar fractures at the optical scale. At shallower depths, a systematic increase in quartz vitrification is observed. Considered together, these data suggest maximal temperatures in excess of 1500 degrees C and pressures of <10 GPa, the latter being considerably less than for any natural impact event. Taken in a broader context, the implications of this work extend toward exploiting the use of advanced imaging techniques to improve our understanding of mineral processes in extreme, non-equilibrium environments at the near-atomic scale.

ISSN: 0003-004X
EISSN: 1945-3027
Serial Title: American Mineralogist
Serial Volume: 102
Serial Issue: 2
Title: Nuclear-blast induced nanotextures in quartz and zircon within Trinitite
Affiliation: University of Notre Dame, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences, Notre Dame, IN, United States
Pages: 445-460
Published: 201702
Text Language: English
Publisher: Mineralogical Society of America, Washington, DC, United States
References: 70
Accession Number: 2017-018535
Categories: General mineralogy
Document Type: Serial
Bibliographic Level: Analytic
Illustration Description: illus.
N31°30'00" - N37°00'00", W109°04'60" - W103°00'00"
Country of Publication: United States
Secondary Affiliation: GeoRef, Copyright 2017, American Geosciences Institute. Abstract, copyright, Mineralogical Society of America. Reference includes data from GeoScienceWorld, Alexandria, VA, United States
Update Code: 201713
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