Two novel methods of in situ isotope analysis, ion microprobe and microdigestion, were used for 230Th/U and 234U/238U dating of finely laminated opal hemispheres formed in unsaturated felsic tuff at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, proposed site for a high-level radioactive waste repository. Both methods allow analysis of layers as many as several orders of magnitude thinner than standard methods using total hemisphere digestion that were reported previously. Average growth rates calculated from data at this improved spatial resolution verified that opal grew at extremely slow rates over the last million years. Growth rates of 0.58 and 0.69 mm/m.y. were obtained for the outer 305 and 740 ??m of two opal hemispheres analyzed by ion microprobe, and 0.68 mm/m.y. for the outer 22 ??m of one of these same hemispheres analyzed by sequential microdigestion. These Pleistocene growth rates are 2 to 10 times slower than those calculated for older secondary calcite and silica mineral coatings deposited over the last 5 to 10 m.y. dated by the U-Pb method and may reflect differences between Miocene and Pleistocene seepage flux. The microdigestion data also imply that opal growth rates may have varied over the last 40 k.y. These data are the first indication that growth rates and associated seepage in the proposed repository horizon may correlate with changes in late Pleistocene climate, involving faster growth during wetter, cooler climates (glacial maximum), slower growth during transition climates, and no growth during the most arid climate (modern). Data collected at this refined spatial scale may lead to a better understanding of the hydrologic variability expected within the thick unsaturated zone at Yucca Mountain over the time scale of interest for radioactive waste isolation. ?? 2004 Elsevier Ltd.
Additional publication details
Improved spatial resolution for U-series dating of opal at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, USA, using ion-microprobe and microdigestion methods