Snow shielding factors for cosmogenic nuclide dating inferred from Monte Carlo neutron transport simulations

Christopher Zweck, Marek Zreda, Darin Desilets

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Conventional formulations of changes in cosmogenic nuclide production rates with snow cover are based on a mass-shielding approach, which neglects the role of neutron moderation by hydrogen. This approach can produce erroneous correction factors and add to the uncertainty of the calculated cosmogenic exposure ages. We use a Monte Carlo particle transport model to simulate fluxes of secondary cosmic-ray neutrons near the surface of the Earth and vary surface snow depth to show changes in neutron fluxes above rock or soil surface. To correspond with shielding factors for spallation and low-energy neutron capture, neutron fluxes are partitioned into high-energy, epithermal and thermal components. The results suggest that high-energy neutrons are attenuated by snow cover at a significantly higher rate (shorter attenuation length) than indicated by the commonly-used mass-shielding formulation. As thermal and epithermal neutrons derive from the moderation of high-energy neutrons, the presence of a strong moderator such as hydrogen in snow increases the thermal neutron flux both within the snow layer and above it. This means that low-energy production rates are affected by snow cover in a manner inconsistent with the mass-shielding approach and those formulations cannot be used to compute snow correction factors for nuclides produced by thermal neutrons. Additionally, as above-ground low-energy neutron fluxes vary with snow cover as a result of reduced diffusion from the ground, low-energy neutron fluxes are affected by snow even if the snow is at some distance from the site where measurements are made.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)64-71
Number of pages8
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
StatePublished - Oct 1 2013


  • Cosmogenic nuclides
  • Low-energy neutron capture
  • Monte Carlo methods
  • Snow shielding

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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