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The potential of radioactive disequilibria as tracers and chronometers of weathering processes has been recognised since the 1960’s (e.g., Rosholt et al. 1966; Hansen and Stout 1968). This interest results from the dual property of the nuclides of the U and Th radioactive series (1) to be fractionated during water-rock interactions and (2) to have radioactive periods of the same order of magnitude as the time constants of many weathering processes and chemical transfers to ground and river waters. Therefore, the study of radioactive disequilibria in surface environments should help to bring information about the nature, the intensity but also the time-scale of the water-rock interactions produced during weathering and related chemical transfers. These different properties have justified many of the studies on U-Th series in weathering profiles and river waters.
Rosholt (1982), Scott (1982) and Osmond and Ivanovich (1992) gave a synthesis of the studies of U-series in weathering and surface hydrology up to the 1980’s and the 1990’s respectively. Here, we present the main directions taken in these domains over the last decade. They were partly stimulated by the analytical developments made in the measurement of the medium half-life nuclides of 238U series (i.e., 234U-230Th-226Ra) in the mid-1980’s, namely, the use of thermal ionisation mass spectrometry (TIMS) (e.g., Chen et al. 1986; Edwards et al. 1987; Cohen et al. 1991; Chabaux 1993;Chabaux et al. 1994) and more recently the use of MC ICP-MS (Turner et al. 2001; Robinson et al. 2002) for U and Th isotope analysis. Details of these developments are given in this volume (Goldstein and Stirling 2003). Compared to the radioactive counting methods previously used, the new techniques permit (1) a reduction by one order of magnitude or more of the size of the sample required for …