Origin and percolation times of Milandre Cave drip water determined by tritium time series and beryllium-7 data from Switzerland

Affolter, Stéphane; Steinmann, Philipp; Aemisegger, Franziska; Purtschert, Roland; Leuenberger, Markus (2020). Origin and percolation times of Milandre Cave drip water determined by tritium time series and beryllium-7 data from Switzerland. Journal of environmental radioactivity, 222(5), p. 106346. Elsevier 10.1016/j.jenvrad.2020.106346

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Early observations of the tritium (3H) activity in precipitation from Switzerland started in 1967 in Bern and a monitoring program with improved analytical techniques was carried out between 1971 and 2009. Between 2012 and 2015, we performed tritium analyses on daily precipitation samples from north-western Switzerland to better constrain the tritium variability. We also collected waters dripping inside Milandre Cave (Jura Mountains) with a 4–6 months’ resolution in order to estimate the age of the drip water, which is mandatory to interpret the high-resolution speleothem (cave carbonate deposits) records. Over the monitoring period, the mean tritium concentration in the daily precipitation samples was approximately 8.7 ± 4.7 TU with distinct seasonality showing higher values in spring and summer (from April–May to August–September). The similarity in trends with the other cosmogenic radionuclide beryllium-7 (7Be) suggests that, for the study site, tritium in precipitation essentially originates from stratospheric input in spring. In winter, precipitation dynamics with increasing moisture originating from the Atlantic and diluted during transport contribute to low values close to the Atlantic background. In cave drip water, the depleted activity level of tritium indicates a relatively long percolation time from the surface to the cave of several years. A residual superimposed short tritium variability provides evidence for the occurrence of fast flowing water paths. The contribution from both components were quantified based on a two-component lumped parameter-mixing model. Finally, we show that tritium concentrations in cave drip water are linked to the moisture origin and atmospheric transport pathways.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Physics Institute > Climate and Environmental Physics

UniBE Contributor:

Affolter, Stéphane; Purtschert, Roland and Leuenberger, Markus


500 Science > 530 Physics








BORIS Import 2

Date Deposited:

16 Sep 2021 11:25

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:52

Publisher DOI:






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