January 19, 2023
Conference Paper

Using Cosmic Ray Muons to Assess Geological Characteristics in the Subsurface


Cosmic rays are energetic nuclei and elementary particles that originate from stars and intergalactic events. The interaction of these particles with the upper atmosphere produces a wide range of secondary particles that reach the surface of the earth, of which muons are the most prominent. With enough energy, muons can travel up to a few kilometers beneath the surface of the earth before being stopped completely. The terrestrial muon flux profile and associated zenith angle can be utilized to determine geological characteristics of a location (e.g., rock overburden and density) without having to use conventional methods such as boreholes. This work uses a low-power plastic scintillator-based muon detection system as a prototype for this non-destructive geological assay methodology. Four custom designed 102 cm x 51 cm x 5 cm plastic scintillation panels are used to realize two orthogonal detection planes. Optical photons from each scintillation panel are read using OnSemi J-Series 4x4 silicon photomultiplier (SiPM) arrays in conjunction with preamplifiers. Simultaneous triggers between detectors from two planes indicate a coincidence event which is recorded using the QuarkNet data acquisition system (DAQ) from Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. A custom detector holder was designed to securely mount the detection system and rotate the panels along the zenith to collect data at variable angles. In order to quantify the systematic uncertainties associated with the detector, such as energy depositions and angular resolution of the detector design, a Monte Carlo (MC) simulation using Geant4 is being developed. Cosmic ray flux prediction will be included in the project by adding the CORSIKA MC code to the simulation toolchain. Simulated and experimental data will drive the development and validation of a reconstruction algorithm that, upon completion, is expected to predict average overburden and rock density. Extended detector exposure to muons can be used as a means to understand changes in the surrounding environment like rock porosity. On the experimental front, muons will initially be measured at the surface, establishing the baseline flux. This is followed by recording the muon flux at variable depths and zenith angles, where the data will be used by the reconstruction algorithm to predict the overburden. The result will be benchmarked against geological surveys. The measured flux data will also be used to benchmark independent and established models. Successful proof-of-concept demonstration of this technology can open doors for long term non-invasive geological monitoring. The detector design, experimental methodology, and the benchmarking efforts are detailed in this work.

Published: January 19, 2023


Gadey H., R. Howard, S. Tognini, J. Meszaros, R. Montgomery, S. Chatzidakis, and J. Bae, et al. 2022. Using Cosmic Ray Muons to Assess Geological Characteristics in the Subsurface. In International High Level Radioactive Waste Management Conference, November 13-17, 2022, Phoenix, AZ, 802-806. La Grange Park, Illinois:American Nuclear Society. PNNL-SA-174558.