By Griffon , December 29, in Physics. I've been poking about on the internet again as you do and found a whole load of stuff by creationists about the problems with carbon 14 radiometric dating. Specifically they report with some glee that coal has been found to contain measurable amounts of carbon14 which it should not of course because it is about million years old and dates from the carboniferous period. C14 has a half life of years and is only good to date objects to 50, years or so. Although I can find any number of references to this seemingly vital finding on the creationist sites, I can find almost no attempt to refute or explain this anomaly on serious science sites.
The northern and southern hemispheres have atmospheric circulation systems that are sufficiently independent of each other that there is a noticeable time lag in mixing between the two.
Since the surface ocean is depleted in 14 C because of the marine effect, 14 C is removed from the southern atmosphere more quickly than in the north.
For example, rivers that pass over limestonewhich is mostly composed of calcium carbonatewill acquire carbonate ions. Similarly, groundwater can contain carbon derived from the rocks through which it has passed.
Volcanic eruptions eject large amounts of carbon into the air.
Dormant volcanoes can also emit aged carbon. Any addition of carbon to a sample of a different age will cause the measured date to be inaccurate. Contamination with modern carbon causes a sample to appear to be younger than it really is: the effect is greater for older samples.
Samples for dating need to be converted into a form suitable for measuring the 14 C content; this can mean conversion to gaseous, liquid, or solid form, depending on the measurement technique to be used. Before this can be done, the sample must be treated to remove any contamination and any unwanted constituents. Particularly for older samples, it may be useful to enrich the amount of 14 C in the sample before testing. This can be done with a thermal diffusion column.
Once contamination has been removed, samples must be converted to a form suitable for the measuring technology to be used. For accelerator mass spectrometrysolid graphite targets are the most common, although gaseous CO 2 can also be used. The quantity of material needed for testing depends on the sample type and the technology being used. There are two types of testing technology: detectors that record radioactivity, known as beta counters, and accelerator mass spectrometers.
For beta counters, a sample weighing at least 10 grams 0. For decades after Libby performed the first radiocarbon dating experiments, the only way to measure the 14 C in a sample was to detect the radioactive decay of individual carbon atoms.
Libby's first detector was a Geiger counter of his own design. He converted the carbon in his sample to lamp black soot and coated the inner surface of a cylinder with it. This cylinder was inserted into the counter in such a way that the counting wire was inside the sample cylinder, in order that there should be no material between the sample and the wire.
Libby's method was soon superseded by gas proportional counterswhich were less affected by bomb carbon the additional 14 C created by nuclear weapons testing. These counters record bursts of ionization caused by the beta particles emitted by the decaying 14 C atoms; the bursts are proportional to the energy of the particle, so other sources of ionization, such as background radiation, can be identified and ignored.
The counters are surrounded by lead or steel shielding, to eliminate background radiation and to reduce the incidence of cosmic rays. In addition, anticoincidence detectors are used; these record events outside the counter and any event recorded simultaneously both inside and outside the counter is regarded as an extraneous event and ignored. The other common technology used for measuring 14 C activity is liquid scintillation counting, which was invented inbut which had to wait until the early s, when efficient methods of benzene synthesis were developed, to become competitive with gas counting; after liquid counters became the more common technology choice for newly constructed dating laboratories.
The counters work by detecting flashes of light caused by the beta particles emitted by 14 C as they interact with a fluorescing agent added to the benzene. Like gas counters, liquid scintillation counters require shielding and anticoincidence counters.
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For both the gas proportional counter and liquid scintillation counter, what is measured is the number of beta particles detected in a given time period. This provides a value for the background radiation, which must be subtracted from the measured activity of the sample being dated to get the activity attributable solely to that sample's 14 C. In addition, a sample with a standard activity is measured, to provide a baseline for comparison.
The ions are accelerated and passed through a stripper, which removes several electrons so that the ions emerge with a positive charge. A particle detector then records the number of ions detected in the 14 C stream, but since the volume of 12 C and 13 Cneeded for calibration is too great for individual ion detection, counts are determined by measuring the electric current created in a Faraday cup. Any 14 C signal from the machine background blank is likely to be caused either by beams of ions that have not followed the expected path inside the detector or by carbon hydrides such as 12 CH 2 or 13 CH.
When does carbon dating stop working
A 14 C signal from the process blank measures the amount of contamination introduced during the preparation of the sample. These measurements are used in the subsequent calculation of the age of the sample. The calculations to be performed on the measurements taken depend on the technology used, since beta counters measure the sample's radioactivity whereas AMS determines the ratio of the three different carbon isotopes in the sample.
To determine the age of a sample whose activity has been measured by beta counting, the ratio of its activity to the activity of the standard must be found. To determine this, a blank sample of old, or dead, carbon is measured, and a sample of known activity is measured.
How Carbon Dating Works
The additional samples allow errors such as background radiation and systematic errors in the laboratory setup to be detected and corrected for. The results from AMS testing are in the form of ratios of 12 C13 Cand 14 Cwhich are used to calculate Fm, the "fraction modern".
Both beta counting and AMS results have to be corrected for fractionation.
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The calculation uses 8, the mean-life derived from Libby's half-life of 5, years, not 8, the mean-life derived from the more accurate modern value of 5, years. Libby's value for the half-life is used to maintain consistency with early radiocarbon testing results; calibration curves include a correction for this, so the accuracy of final reported calendar ages is assured. The reliability of the results can be improved by lengthening the testing time.
Radiocarbon dating is generally limited to dating samples no more than 50, years old, as samples older than that have insufficient 14 C to be measurable.
Older dates have been obtained by using special sample preparation techniques, large samples, and very long measurement times. These techniques can allow measurement of dates up to 60, and in some cases up to 75, years before the present. This was demonstrated in by an experiment run by the British Museum radiocarbon laboratory, in which weekly measurements were taken on the same sample for six months. The measurements included one with a range from about to about years ago, and another with a range from about to about Errors in procedure can also lead to errors in the results.
The calculations given above produce dates in radiocarbon years: i. To produce a curve that can be used to relate calendar years to radiocarbon years, a sequence of securely dated samples is needed which can be tested to determine their radiocarbon age. The study of tree rings led to the first such sequence: individual pieces of wood show characteristic sequences of rings that vary in thickness because of environmental factors such as the amount of rainfall in a given year.
These factors affect all trees in an area, so examining tree-ring sequences from old wood allows the identification of overlapping sequences. In this way, an uninterrupted sequence of tree rings can be extended far into the past.
The first such published sequence, based on bristlecone pine tree rings, was created by Wesley Ferguson. Suess said he drew the line showing the wiggles by "cosmic schwung ", by which he meant that the variations were caused by extraterrestrial forces. It was unclear for some time whether the wiggles were real or not, but they are now well-established. A calibration curve is used by taking the radiocarbon date reported by a laboratory and reading across from that date on the vertical axis of the graph.
The point where this horizontal line intersects the curve will give the calendar age of the sample on the horizontal axis. This is the reverse of the way the curve is constructed: a point on the graph is derived from a sample of known age, such as a tree ring; when it is tested, the resulting radiocarbon age gives a data point for the graph. Over the next thirty years many calibration curves were published using a variety of methods and statistical approaches.
The improvements to these curves are based on new data gathered from tree rings, varvescoralplant macrofossilsspeleothemsand foraminifera.
The INTCAL13 data includes separate curves for the northern and southern hemispheres, as they differ systematically because of the hemisphere effect.
The southern curve SHCAL13 is based on independent data where possible and derived from the northern curve by adding the average offset for the southern hemisphere where no direct data was available. The sequence can be compared to the calibration curve and the best match to the sequence established. Bayesian statistical techniques can be applied when there are several radiocarbon dates to be calibrated. For example, if a series of radiocarbon dates is taken from different levels in a stratigraphic sequence, Bayesian analysis can be used to evaluate dates which are outliers and can calculate improved probability distributions, based on the prior information that the sequence should be ordered in time.
Several formats for citing radiocarbon results have been used since the first samples were dated. As ofthe standard format required by the journal Radiocarbon is as follows.
Related forms are sometimes used: for example, "10 ka BP" means 10, radiocarbon years before present i. Calibrated dates should also identify any programs, such as OxCal, used to perform the calibration.
A key concept in interpreting radiocarbon dates is archaeological association : what is the true relationship between two or more objects at an archaeological site? It frequently happens that a sample for radiocarbon dating can be taken directly from the object of interest, but there are also many cases where this is not possible.
Metal grave goods, for example, cannot be radiocarbon dated, but they may be found in a grave with a coffin, charcoal, or other material which can be assumed to have been deposited at the same time. In these cases, a date for the coffin or charcoal is indicative of the date of deposition of the grave goods, because of the direct functional relationship between the two.
There are also cases where there is no functional relationship, but the association is reasonably strong: for example, a layer of charcoal in a rubbish pit provides a date which has a relationship to the rubbish pit. Contamination is of particular concern when dating very old material obtained from archaeological excavations and great care is needed in the specimen selection and preparation. InThomas Higham and co-workers suggested that many of the dates published for Neanderthal artefacts are too recent because of contamination by "young carbon".
As a tree grows, only the outermost tree ring exchanges carbon with its environment, so the age measured for a wood sample depends on where the sample is taken from. This means that radiocarbon dates on wood samples can be older than the date at which the tree was felled.
In addition, if a piece of wood is used for multiple purposes, there may be a significant delay between the felling of the tree and the final use in the context in which it is found. Another example is driftwood, which may be used as construction material. It is not always possible to recognize re-use.
Other materials can present the same problem: for example, bitumen is known to have been used by some Neolithic communities to waterproof baskets; the bitumen's radiocarbon age will be greater than is measurable by the laboratory, regardless of the actual age of the context, so testing the basket material will give a misleading age if care is not taken.
A separate issue, related to re-use, is that of lengthy use, or delayed deposition.
Carbon dating is a way of determining the age of certain archeological artifacts of a biological origin up to about 50, years old. It is used in dating things such as bone, cloth, wood and plant fibers that were created in the relatively recent past by human activities. Radiocarbon dating (also referred to as carbon dating or carbon dating) is a method for determining the age of an object containing organic material by using the properties of radiocarbon, a radioactive isotope of carbon. The method was developed in the late s at the University of Chicago by Willard Libby, who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work . Feb 17, (Note: I think that should be I know I visited thefoodlumscatering.com several times in the last two years, last time being about a month or so ago.). What is more alarming is that the Google searches for "carbon 14 RATE", "carbon 14 diamond", and "carbon 14 coal" yield hits predominantly in woowoo fundamentalist sites, and no hits on the first 15 pages (10 links .
In other words, the readings are consistent with zero C14 content. In fact, the experiments cited by the creationists appear to be attempts to establish the measurement error of there equipment. Older carbon dating techniques directly detected decays of C14 atoms. The problem: If the material is too old, the small amount of C14 present may not decay in the measurement interval.
Newer, more accurate techniques use mass spectroscopy. Mass spectroscopy, like any man-made measurement, is not perfect. In particular, given a pure sample of C12, I suspect a mass spectrometer would indicate that a non-zero amount of C14 present. It is nigh impossible to measure exactly zero. It doesn't take much contamination to spoil a sample with near-zero quantity of C Creationists pounce on this explanation as meaning all carbon 14 readings are suspect. While that same level of contamination if this is the explanation will add some error to the dating of some reasonably aged sample, the error will be small - so long as the sample is not too old.
Carbon Dating. Carbon Dating - What Is It And How Does It Work? This is how carbon dating works: Carbon is a naturally abundant element found in the atmosphere, in the earth, in the oceans, and in every living creature. C is by far the most common isotope, while only about one in a trillion carbon atoms is C
The contamination is additive, not proportional. Alternate source of C14 production. Natural diamonds are not pure carbon. The most common contaminant is nitrogen, 0. Nearby radioactive material could trigger exactly the same C14 production process from nitrogen as occurs in the upper atmosphere, albeit at a much reduced rate.
Another possible avenue is C13, which has a small but non-zero neutron absorption cross section. By either mechanism, this is essentially internal contamination.
All this means is that measured dates older than some oldest reliable date are just that - to old to date reliably. I might be able to see if I can come up with some references.
I won't be able to do so in the near term - my wife and kids want me to stop dorking with the internet and go out to eat. The article you were looking for is hereand yeah, it looks like you're right.
Note: I think that should be I know I visited talkorigins. What is more alarming is that the Google searches for "carbon 14 RATE", "carbon 14 diamond", and "carbon 14 coal" yield hits predominantly in woowoo fundamentalist sites, and no hits on the first 15 pages 10 links per page to anything at talkorigins. I eventually managed to find an excellent article see the top of this post using pandasthumb.
That led me to this non-technical article. I think the news item on their front page refers to a much older event. What happened, from what I recall, is that someone hacked TalkOrigins and managed to get the site to display hidden spam links at the bottom of pages, making Google think it was a spam site and thus getting it removed from Google.
They fixed that issue a while ago. PZ Myers says they've had some technical issues. I am working my way through Kirk Bertsche's 9 page essay on the subject. Thanks DH for this link.
This article does a good job at explaining the technical complexities of measuring the very small amounts of C14 present in these ancient samples and why non-zero amounts are measured.
I'm a complete non-expert in this field of radiometric dating, but it strikes me reading this how contamination by modern carbon introduced during sample preparation seems to be a severe issue. I'm wonder whether they've extracted samples under an inert atmosphere and then used laser ablation to ionize samples in their mass spectrometers? I'm probably teaching grandmother to suck eggs, as the old saying goes. Getting back to my OP - I feel that some definitive work needs to be done in this area.
Since the s, scientists have used carbon dating to determine the age of fossils, identify vintages of wine and whiskey, and explore other organic artifacts like wood and ivory.
The technique involves comparing the level of one kind of carbon atom-one that decays over time-with the level of another, more stable kind of carbon atom. The approach was a sensation when it was introduced. The chemist who developed carbon dating, Willard Libby, won the Nobel Prize for his work. Today, carbon dating is used so widely as to be taken for granted. Scientists across countless disciplines rely on it to date objects that are tens of thousands of years old.
An analysis by Heather Gravena climate-physics researcher at Imperial College London, finds that today's rate of fossil-fuel emissions is skewing the ratio of carbon that scientists use to determine an object's age.