Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Partial radiogenic heat model for Earth revealed by geoneutrino measurements


The Earth has cooled since its formation, yet the decay of radiogenic isotopes, and in particular uranium, thorium and potassium, in the planet’s interior provides a continuing heat source. The current total heat flux from the Earth to space is 44.2±1.0 TW, but the relative contributions from residual primordial heat and radiogenic decay remain uncertain. However, radiogenic decay can be estimated from the flux of geoneutrinos, electrically neutral particles that are emitted during radioactive decay and can pass through the Earth virtually unaffected. Here we combine precise measurements of the geoneutrino flux from the Kamioka Liquid-Scintillator Antineutrino Detector, Japan, with existing measurements from the Borexino detector, Italy. We find that decay of uranium-238 and thorium-232 together contribute  TW to Earth’s heat flux. The neutrinos emitted from the decay of potassium-40 are below the limits of detection in our experiments, but are known to contribute 4 TW. Taken together, our observations indicate that heat from radioactive decay contributes about half of Earth’s total heat flux. We therefore conclude that Earth’s primordial heat supply has not yet been exhausted.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Prompt energy spectrum and event selection efficiency.
Figure 2: Event-rate correlation.
Figure 3: CL of geoneutrino events.
Figure 4: Measured geoneutrino flux and models.


  1. 1

    Araki, T. et al. Experimental investigation of geologically produced antineutrinos with KamLAND. Nature 436, 499–503 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Abe, S. et al. Precision measurement of neutrino oscillation parameters with KamLAND. Phys. Rev. Lett. 100, 221803 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Bellini, G. et al. Observation of geo-neutrinos. Phys. Lett. B 687, 299–304 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Enomoto, S., Ohtani, E., Inoue, K. & Suzuki, A. Neutrino geophysics with KamLAND and future prospects. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 258, 147–159 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    McDonough, W. F. & Sun, S-s. The composition of the Earth. Chem. Geol. 120, 223–253 (1995).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Arevalo, R. Jr, McDonough, W. F. & Luong, M. The K/U ratio of the silicate Earth: Insights into mantle composition, structure and thermal evolution. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 278, 361–369 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Pollack, H. N., Hurter, S. J. & Johnson, J. R. Heat flow from the Earth’s interior: Analysis of the global data set. Rev. Geophys. 31, 267–280 (1993).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Fiorentini, G., Lissia, M. & Mantovani, F. Geo-neutrinos and earth’s interior. Phys. Rep. 453, 117–172 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Fogli, G. L., Lisi, E., Palazzo, A. & Rotunno, A. M. Geo-neutrinos: A systematic approach to uncertainties and correlations. Earth Moon Planets 99, 111–130 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Giunti, C. & Kim, C. W. Fundamentals of Neutrino Physics and Astrophysics (Oxford Univ. Press, 2007).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Abe, S. et al. Production of radioactive isotopes through cosmic muon spallation in KamLAND. Phys. Rev. C 81, 025807 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Vogel, P. & Beacom, J. F. Angular distribution of neutron inverse beta decay, . Phys. Rev. D 60, 053003 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Schreckenbach, K., Colvin, G., Gelletly, W. & Von Feilitzsch, F. Determination of the antineutrino spectrum from 235U thermal neutron fission products up to 9.5 MeV. Phys. Lett. B 160, 325–330 (1985).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Hahn, A. A. et al. Antineutrino spectra from 241Pu and 239Pu thermal neutron fission products. Phys. Lett. B 218, 365–368 (1989).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Vogel, P. Reactor antineutrino spectra and their application to antineutrino-induced reactions. II. Phys. Rev. C 24, 1543–1553 (1981).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Achkar, B. et al. Comparison of anti-neutrino reactor spectrum models with the Bugey 3 measurements. Phys. Lett. B 374, 243–248 (1996).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Kopeikin, V. I., Mikaelyan, L. A. & Sinev, V. V. Inverse beta decay in a nonequilibrium antineutrino flux from a nuclear reactor. Phys. Atomic Nucl. 64, 849–854 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Bahcall, J. N., Serenelli, A. M. & Basu, S. New solar opacities, abundances, helioseismology, and neutrino fluxes. Astrophys. J. 621, 85–88 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Aharmim, B. et al. Low-energy-threshold analysis of the Phase I and Phase II data sets of the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory. Phys. Rev. C 81, 055504 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Herndon, J. M. Nuclear georeactor origin of oceanic basalt 3He/4He, evidence, and implications. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 100, 3047–3050 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Herndon, J. M. & Edgerley, D. A. Background for terrestrial antineutrino investigations: Radionuclide distribution, georeactor fission events, and boundary conditions on fission power production. Preprint at (2005).

  22. 22

    Korenaga, J. Urey ratio and the structure and evolution of Earth’s mantle. Rev. Geophys. 46, RG2007 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Lyubetskaya, T. & Korenaga, J. Chemical composition of Earth’s primitive mantle and its variance: 2. Implications for global geodynamics. J. Geophys. Res. 112, B03212 (2007).

    Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Enomoto, S. Experimental study of geoneutrinos with KamLAND. Earth Moon Planets 99, 131–146 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Rudnick, R. L., Gao, S., Holland, H. D. & Turekian, K. K. Treatise on Geochemistry: Composition of the Continental Crust, Vol. 3 1–64 (Pergamon, 2003).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Jaupart, C., Labrosse, S., Mareschal, J. C. & Schubert, G. Treatise on Geophysics: Temperatures, Heat and Energy in the Mantle of the Earth Vol. 7 253–303 (Elsevier, 2007).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Berger, B. E. et al. The KamLAND full-volume calibration system. J. Instrum. 4, P04017 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank E. Ohtani and W. F. McDonough for advice and guidance. The KamLAND experiment is supported by a Grant-in-Aid for Specially Promoted Research under grant 16002002 of the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology; the World Premier International Research Center Initiative (WPI Initiative), MEXT, Japan; and the US Department of Energy (DOE) grants DEFG03-00ER41138 and DE-AC02-05CH11231, as well as other DOE grants to individual institutions. The reactor data are provided by courtesy of the following electric associations in Japan: Hokkaido, Tohoku, Tokyo, Hokuriku, Chubu, Kansai, Chugoku, Shikoku and Kyushu Electric Power Companies, Japan Atomic Power Company and Japan Atomic Energy Agency. The Kamioka Mining and Smelting Company has provided service for activities in the mine.

Author information




All authors contributed equally to the work presented in this study.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to I. Shimizu.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The author declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (PDF 178 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

The KamLAND Collaboration. Partial radiogenic heat model for Earth revealed by geoneutrino measurements. Nature Geosci 4, 647–651 (2011).

Download citation

Further reading


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing