Problems with radiocarbon dating

Answers to Creationist Attacks on Carbon Dating | NCSE

problems with radiocarbon dating

Sep 9, Radiocarbon dating, which is used to calculate the age of certain organic materials, has been found to be unreliable, and sometimes wildly so. May 31, send reports of such problems to [email protected] But scientists have long recognized that carbon dating is subject to. When dating wood there is no such problem because wood gets its carbon straight from the air, complete with a full dose of C The creationists who quote .

If we extrapolate - page 25 - as far back as ten thousand years ago, we find the atmosphere would not have had any C in it at all. If they are right, this means all C ages greater than two or three thousand years need to be lowered drastically and that the earth can be no older than ten thousand years.

Yes, Cook is right that C is forming today faster than it's decaying. However, the amount of C has not been rising steadily as Cook maintains; instead, it has fluctuated up and down over the past ten thousand years. How do we know this? From radiocarbon dates taken from bristlecone pines.

There are two ways of dating wood from bristlecone pines: Since the tree ring counts have reliably dated some specimens of wood all the way back to BC, one can check out the C dates against the tree-ring-count dates. Admittedly, this old wood comes from trees that have been dead for hundreds of years, but you don't have to have an 8,year-old bristlecone pine tree alive today to validly determine that sort of date.

It is easy to correlate the inner rings of a younger living tree with the outer rings of an older dead tree. The correlation is possible because, in the Southwest region of the United States, the widths of tree rings vary from year to year with the rainfall, and trees all over the Southwest have the same pattern of variations.

When experts compare the tree-ring dates with the C dates, they find that radiocarbon ages before BC are really too young—not too old as Cook maintains. For example, pieces of wood that date at about BC by tree-ring counts date at only BC by regular C dating and BC by Cook's creationist revision of C dating as we see in the article, "Dating, Relative and Absolute," in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

So, despite creationist claims, C before three thousand years ago was decaying faster than it was being formed and C dating errs on the side of making objects from before BC look too young, not too old.

But don't trees sometimes produce more than one growth ring per year? Wouldn't that spoil the tree-ring count? If anything, the tree-ring sequence suffers far more from missing rings than from double rings. This means that the tree-ring dates would be slightly too young, not too old.

Of course, some species of tree tend to produce two or more growth rings per year. But other species produce scarcely any extra rings. Most of the tree-ring sequence is based on the bristlecone pine.

problems with radiocarbon dating

This tree rarely produces even a trace of an extra ring; on the contrary, a typical bristlecone pine has up to 5 percent of its rings missing. Concerning the sequence of rings derived from the bristlecone pine, Ferguson says: In the growth-ring analyses of approximately one thousand trees in the White Mountains, we have, in fact, found no more than three or four occurrences of even incipient multiple growth layers.

Hence at least some of the missing rings can be found. Even so, the missing rings are a far more serious problem than any double rings.

Carbon Dating Gets a Reset - Scientific American

Other species of trees corroborate the work that Ferguson did with bristlecone pines. Before his work, the tree-ring sequence of the sequoias had been worked out back to BC. The archaeological ring sequence had been worked out back to 59 BC. The limber pine sequence had been worked out back to 25 BC. The radiocarbon dates and tree-ring dates of these other trees agree with those Ferguson got from the bristlecone pine. But even if he had had no other trees with which to work except the bristlecone pines, that evidence alone would have allowed him to determine the tree-ring chronology back to BC.

See Renfrew for more details. So, creationists who complain about double rings in their attempts to disprove C dating are actually grasping at straws. If the Flood of Noah occurred around BC, as some creationists claim, then all the bristlecone pines would have to be less than five thousand years old.

This would mean that eighty-two hundred years worth of tree rings had to form in five thousand years, which would mean that one-third of all the bristlecone pine rings would have to be extra rings.

Creationists are forced into accepting such outlandish conclusions as these in order to jam the facts of nature into the time frame upon which their "scientific" creation model is based. Barnes has claimed that the earth's magnetic field is decaying exponentially with a half-life of fourteen hundred years. Not only does he consider this proof that the earth can be no older than ten thousand years but he also points out that a greater magnetic strength in the past would reduce C dates.

Now if the magnetic field several thousand years ago was indeed many times stronger than it is today, there would have been less cosmic radiation entering the atmosphere back then and less C would have been produced. Therefore, any C dates taken from objects of that time period would be too high. How do you answer him? Like Cook, Barnes looks at only part of the evidence. What he ignores is the great body of archaeological and geological data showing that the strength of the magnetic field has been fluctuating up and down for thousands of years and that it has reversed polarity many times in the geological past.

So, when Barnes extrapolates ten thousand years into the past, he concludes that the magnetic field was nineteen times stronger in BC than it is today, when, actually, it was only half as intense then as now. This means that radiocarbon ages of objects from that time period will be too young, just as we saw from the bristlecone pine evidence.

problems with radiocarbon dating

But how does one know that the magnetic field has fluctuated and reversed polarity? Aren't these just excuses scientists give in order to neutralize Barnes's claims?

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The evidence for fluctuations and reversals of the magnetic field is quite solid. Bucha, a Czech geophysicist, has used archaeological artifacts made of baked clay to determine the strength of the earth's magnetic field when they were manufactured.

He found that the earth's magnetic field was 1. See Bailey, Renfrew, and Encyclopedia Britannica for details. In other words, it rose in intensity from 0. Even before the bristlecone pine calibration of C dating was worked out by Ferguson, Bucha predicted that this change in the magnetic field would make radiocarbon dates too young.

This idea [that the fluctuating magnetic field affects influx of cosmic rays, which in turn affects C formation rates] has been taken up by the Czech geophysicist, V.

Bucha, who has been able to determine, using samples of baked clay from archeological sites, what the intensity of the earth's magnetic field was at the time in question. Even before the tree-ring calibration data were available to them, he and the archeologist, Evzen Neustupny, were able to suggest how much this would affect the radiocarbon dates.

There is a good correlation between the strength of the earth's magnetic field as determined by Bucha and the deviation of the atmospheric radiocarbon concentration from its normal value as indicated by the tree-ring radiocarbon work. As for the question of polarity reversals, plate tectonics can teach us much. It is a fact that new oceanic crust continually forms at the mid-oceanic ridges and spreads away from those ridges in opposite directions.

New Carbon is produced at a steady rate in Earth's upper atmosphere, however, as the Sun's rays strike nitrogen atoms. Radiocarbon dating exploits this contrast between a stable and unstable carbon isotope.

During its lifetime, a plant is constantly taking in carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis.

problems with radiocarbon dating

Animals, in turn, consume this carbon when they eat plants, and the carbon spreads through the food cycle. This carbon comprises a steady ratio of Carbon and Carbon When these plants and animals die, they cease taking in carbon. From that point forward, the amount of Carbon in materials left over from the plant or animal will decrease over time, while the amount of Carbon will remain unchanged. To radiocarbon date an organic material, a scientist can measure the ratio of remaining Carbon to the unchanged Carbon to see how long it has been since the material's source died.

Advancing technology has allowed radiocarbon dating to become accurate to within just a few decades in many cases. Carbon dating is a brilliant way for archaeologists to take advantage of the natural ways that atoms decay. Unfortunately, humans are on the verge of messing things up.

The slow, steady process of Carbon creation in the upper atmosphere has been dwarfed in the past centuries by humans spewing carbon from fossil fuels into the air. Since fossil fuels are millions of years old, they no longer contain any measurable amount of Carbon Thus, as millions of tons of Carbon are pushed into the atmosphere, the steady ratio of these two isotopes is being disrupted.

In a study published last yearImperial College London physicist Heather Graven pointed out how these extra carbon emissions will skew radiocarbon dating.