Problems with carbon dating accuracy


02-Jul-2015 20:08

In 2009, several leading researchers in the field established a detailed calibration of radiocarbon dating, based on a careful analysis of pristine corals, ranging back to approximately 50,000 years before the present epoch [Reimer2009].Here is a graph showing radiocarbon dates on the vertical axis and the calibrated age on the horizontal axis (shown here with permission from Johannes van der Plicht, one of the authors of the 2009 study).Creationists often criticize radiocarbon dating in the context of discussions of the age of the earth.But, as is clear even from the very brief discussion in the previous paragraph, radiocarbon dating can say nothing one way or the other about whether the earth is many millions of years old, since such dates are far beyond this method's range of resolution.

But researchers have known at least since 1969 that the carbon-14 level has not been constant, so that the radiocarbon clock needs to be "calibrated." As a result, various schemes are used to correct and calibrate radiocarbon dates, including: In each case, radiocarbon dates, determined by well-established procedures and calculations, are compared directly with dates determined by the above methods, thus permitting the radiocarbon dates to be accurately calibrated with distinct and independent dating techniques.

The relative width of the red calibration curve indicates the range of uncertainty: In October 2012, a team led by Christopher Ramsey of Oxford University published a new study, based on analyses of varves (alternating light/dark bands in sediments) from Lake Suigetsu, which is located about 350 kilometers west of Tokyo, near the coast of the Sea of Japan.

Since it is chemically indistinguishable from the stable isotopes of carbon (carbon-12 and carbon-13), radiocarbon is taken by plants during photosynthesis and then ingested by animals regularly throughout their lifetimes.

When a plant or animal organism dies, however, the exchange of radiocarbon from the atmosphere and the biosphere stops, and the amount of radiocarbon gradually decreases, with a half-life of approximately 5730 years.

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Radiocarbon dating, which is also known as carbon-14 dating, is one widely used radiometric dating scheme to determine dates of ancient artifacts.In discussions of the age of the earth and the antiquity of the human race, creationists often assail perceived weaknesses in radiocarbon dating. Morris, for instance, wrote, "Despite its high popularity, [radiocarbon dating] involves a number of doubtful assumptions, some of which are sufficiently serious to make its results for all ages exceeding about 2000 or 3000 years, in serious need of revision." [Morris2000, pg. Radiocarbon dating is based on the fact that the interaction of cosmic rays from outer space with nitrogen atoms in the atmosphere produces an unstable isotope of carbon, namely radiocarbon.