Carbon dating could become a thing of the past due to global warming

Sep 22, 2015

BBC

By Science Dump

Carbon dating is a very useful technique that scientists use to determine the age of an object. It could be anything from bones to wood, as long as it’s organic material. Fields such as archaeology, geology and ecology use carbon dating on a regular basis, but a new study shows that by the year 2050 carbon dating might have become impossible.

Fossil fuel emissions are ageing the Earth prematurely

The paper “Impact of fossil fuel emissions on atmospheric radiocarbon and various applications of radiocarbon over this century” by climate-physics researcher for Imperial College London, Heather Graven, states that our planet is being aged prematurely by fossil fuel emissions, which is:

diluting the fraction of atmospheric carbon dioxide containing radiocarbon. This is making the atmosphere appear as though it has ‘aged,’ or lost radiocarbon by radioactive decay occurring over time.

As a result of the great amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, new organic materials will appear to be about a 1000 years old, and by the year 2100, fresh organic materials will seem to be 2000 years old! All due to the atmosphere’s radiocarbon age being older than it actually should be.


Read the full article by clicking the name of the source below.

14 comments on “Carbon dating could become a thing of the past due to global warming

  • Fossil fuel emissions are ageing the Earth prematurely

    This is a misinterpretation of the word “ageing”!

    “Ageing” in this context, means “calculating the age”.
    (In any case Carbon-dating only works for the recent thousands of years not millions.)
    For palaeontology and geological time-scales, other isotopes with longer half-lives are used.

    What it is doing is diluting the ratio of Carborn14 to carbon12 by increasing the Carbon12 in the modern atmosphere.

    Thus ancient material where the proportion of Carbon14 is reduced by some of it having decayed (radioactively speaking) thus making up a lesser percentage in the total carbon in a sample, can be confused with modern material which has absorbed Carbon from the modern CO2 enriched rich atmosphere, which has a lower proportion of C14 to start with!



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  • I like the way Alan explains the science of a topic clearly for the layman. I’m surprised that the writer-editors at Science Dump did not catch the semantic absurdity of the cited sentence. Good hawk eye, Alan!



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  • I’m having a really bad day with science education it seems. First this article and then I’ve been trying to watch a 6 part National Geographic series called “Everything you didn’t know about animals” narrated by a Brit called Dominic Frisby who is fine apart from some of the dialogue he’s asked to parrot. In episode two he informs us that the Mantis Shrimp’s clubbing fists accelerate at 50 mph. No they bloody don’t. A speed is NOT an acceleration. Maybe they accelerate “to” 50 mph although this is also meaningless without being given a time or distance within which this happens but they sure as hell don’t accelerate “at” 50 mph.

    However the bits that are killing me are when they cut to several perky little American commentators, two or three blonde girls with Jaclyn Glenn quality teeth and Californian valley girl accents and one or more blokes who all seem compelled to start every second sentence with “so”, use the word “literally” and “like” an inordinate amount immediately followed by something which is absolutely not literally like the first thing they were comparing and apparently think that every animal is like a ninja.

    “So, when you look at cats and how they twist in the air to land on their feet they are literally like ninjas.” No, dammit! No they aren’t “literally” like ninjas. They don’t kill people with swords and ninjas can’t twist their spines in mid air.

    “So octupuses have like real ninja skills as they change colour to blend in…….” arrrrghhhhhh, kill me now.



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  • Of course they can.

    Anyway what are they on about with “All due to the atmosphere’s radiocarbon age being older than it actually should be. “Actually should be” according to whom I wonder?, God perhaps?



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  • Pip
    Sep 23, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    Of course they can.

    I think the point is that when you can have two dates a thousand years apart for the same percentage radiocarbon readings, it makes the historical dating process ambiguous.

    Anyway what are they on about with “All due to the atmosphere’s radiocarbon age being older than it actually should be.

    That was a very poor explanation which I clarified in the first comment of this discussion.

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2015/09/carbon-dating-could-become-a-thing-of-the-past-due-to-global-warming/#li-comment-186468

    It is also clearly explained in the video on the parallel discussion which I have linked in the following comment posted below.

    “Actually should be” according to whom I wonder?, God perhaps?

    It would be according to the percentage readings before the industrial CO2 pollution corrupted the graphed trends of the percentages caused purely by radioactive decay of Carbon 14.



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  • Carbon 14 has a half life of only 5 to 6 thousand years, but when cosmic rays hit a proton in a nitrogen 14 neucleus they convert it to a neutron, thus turning the N14 into C14, as a consequence, carbon 14 is constantly being replenished.

    Ageing over that geologically short time span can also be checked against the dendrochronology records.

    What I don’t understand is how the rate of decay of C14 trapped within igneous rock at the moment it forms from lava or magma, and is zeroed, can be effected by global warming.

    But I feel pretty sure I’m about to be told how.



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  • I feel you, AS. I did not see this program but your description sounds apt and I can sense the incredible frustration. I also detest these nonsensical comparisons in the apparent service of kowtowing to the layman. But the problem is the non thinking layman is going to end up associating a “ninja” (which, let’s be real, were simply feudal era Japanese spies) with these animals, none of which exhibit “true” ninja traits any more than they exhibit 007 traits. Substitute ninja with 007 or ‘Bond’ in your example above to further prove this point. Of course programs such as this are alluding to the popular notion of ninjas, which are basically cartoon like characters with superhuman abilities. At any rate, the dumbing down of the masses continues…



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  • Stafford Gordon
    Sep 24, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    What I don’t understand is how the rate of decay of C14 trapped within igneous rock at the moment it forms from lava or magma, and is zeroed, can be effected by global warming.

    The carbon is in plant or animal material – mainly for dating historical artefacts such as wooden objects, paper, cloth, or bones. The carbon is absorbed from the atmosphere by the plants and the animals which eat them, with a proportion freshly created C14 from the atmosphere. This then diminishes by radioactive decay over time for a few thousand years.

    Fossil carbon such as coal, which is millions of years old, effectively has a C14 content of zero, unless it has been polluted by recent organic matter washed into it by ground water.

    Magma etc. is dated using different isotopes with much longer half-lives.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_radioactive_isotopes_by_half-life



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  • http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-34377434

    Royal Dutch Shell has stopped Arctic oil and gas exploration off the coast of Alaska after “disappointing” results from a key well in the Chukchi Sea.

    In a surprise announcement, the company said it would end exploration off Alaska “for the foreseeable future”.

    Shell said it did not find sufficient amounts of oil and gas in the Burger J well to warrant further exploration.

    The company has spent about $7bn (£4.5bn) on Arctic offshore development in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

    Lord Browne, former BP boss and government adviser, told the BBC that the Arctic “is a very risky place [to explore] and very expensive to develop, so there are probably easier places to go”.

    Indeed some analysts suggested Shell might give up on the Arctic completely.

    “It is possible that Shell might almost be relieved as they can stop exploration for a legitimate operational reason, rather than being seen to bow to environmental pressure,” Stuart Elliott from energy information group Platts told the BBC.

    “With the oil price around $50 a barrel, it was a risky endeavour with no guarantee of success.

    “You could argue that this has been bad for Shell’s reputation and it wouldn’t be a big surprise if they abandoned Arctic drilling altogether.”

    So there is $7billion which could have been better spent on producing returns from new green low carbon technologies!

    Hillary Clinton, a Democratic hopeful for the US Presidency, has said she would block new permits for Alaskan offshore drilling because it’s too risky.



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