Potassium isotope fractionation during the high-temperature evaporation determined from the Trinity nuclear test

Chen, H, Meshik AP, Pravdivtseva OV, Day JMD, Wang K.  2019.  Potassium isotope fractionation during the high-temperature evaporation determined from the Trinity nuclear test. Chemical Geology.

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Trinitite materials are the post-detonation glassy residues formed from melting and evaporation of arkosic sands during the first nuclear detonation at the Trinity test site, New Mexico on 16th July, 1945. These trinitites provide useful materials for studying elemental and isotopic behaviors associated with high temperature melting and evaporation that is otherwise difficult to be achieved under laboratory conditions. Using a high-precision method, we measured the potassium (K) isotopic compositions of six bulk trinitite samples taken at different distances from the epicenter of detonation of the Gadget (ground zero). 15 leachates and etchates of trinitite samples were also analyzed to examine the distribution of K within the samples. All trinitites but IF_m (taken within 10 m from the epicenter) show no resolvable K loss and span a narrow range in K isotopic compositions (δ41K: -0.42 ± 0.05‰ to -0.48 ± 0.05‰), revealing no discernible K isotopic fractionation from the Bulk Silicate Earth (BSE) value (-0.48 ± 0.03‰). Residues and etchates of the trinitite material are identical in composition to the bulk samples implying that K isotopes were homogeneous with the arkosic sand at the Trinity test site prior to the nuclear detonation. The most strongly melted green trinitite IF_m, is the only trinitite that shows loss of K (~7%) coupled with resolvable heavier K isotope composition (0.2‰ higher in δ41K than the BSE value). This coupled K loss and isotopic fractionation corresponds to a 55 fractionation factor(avapor-melt) between 0.995 and 0.998 during the Trinity nuclear detonation. These results confirm that K isotopic fractionation occurs through evaporation processes at high temperatures. We also show that, compared with Zn isotopes measured in the same samples, the isotopes of K were significantly less fractionated during evaporation, indicating that K is less volatile during processes such as magma ocean degassing, volcanic outgassing, and impact volatile loss with the relative order of sensitivity being Cu > Zn > K. Our findings support the concept that the heavy K isotopic composition observed in lunar mare basalts reflects the primary signature imprinted by the Moon-forming giant impact event.