What are two problems with radiocarbon dating

Radiocarbon Dating: A Closer Look At Its Main Flaws

Consequently organisms living there dated by C14 give ages much older than their true age. A lake Bonney seal known to have died only a few weeks before was carbon dated. The results stated that the seal had died between and years ago.


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Shells from living snails were dated using the Carbon 14 method. The results stated that the snails had died 27, years ago. Since organic matter is continually being introduced into the soil, the measured age of soil organic matter has always tended to underestimate the true age of the soil. Carbon exists in the most part in the isotope C, but has a radioactive isotope, C, with a half-life of years.

All terrestrial organisms use carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as a source of carbon, thus there is a constant exchange of C with the atmosphere. Since the rate of radioactive decay is proportional to the number of radioactive atoms present, it is unnecessary to measure the amount of C present in the soil sample. One need only measure the radioactivity per unit mass of carbon. Two systematic errors hamper the precision of radiocarbon dating: The latter is due mainly to the temporal variations of cosmic radiation, the rise of stable carbon isotopes in the atmosphere due to increased consumption of fossil organic fuels known as the Suess effect and radioactivity caused by thermonuclear testing.

In order to minimize the amount of new carbon in the soil, the soil sample has to be liberated from coarse and fresh organic material, such as leaf and root tissue. Free carbonates in the soil are eliminated by treatment with hydrochlroic acid. DeYoung [ ] lists 20 isotopes whose decay rates have been changed by environmental conditions, alluding to the possible significance of these changes to geochronology, but the only significant changes are for isotopes that "decay" by internal conversion.

These changes are irrelevant to radiometric dating methods. Keep an eye on those creationists! They will switch tracks faster than you can say "tiddlywinks. Morris claimed that free neutrons might change the decay rates.

Radiometric Dating Debunked in 3 Minutes

However, Henry Morris, that icon of creationism, only demonstrated that he knew no more about radiometric dating than does Dr. Free neutrons might change one element into another, but the decay rates all remain true to their elements. Morris [ ] also suggests that neutrinos might change decay rates, citing a column by Jueneman 72 in Industrial Research. The subtitle of Jueneman's columns, which appear regularly, is, appropriately, "Scientific Speculation.

Jueneman describes a highly speculative hypothesis that would account for radioactive decay by interaction with neutrinos rather than by spontaneous decay, and he notes that an event that temporarily increased the neutrino flux might "reset" the clocks. Jueneman, however, does not propose that decay rates would be changed, nor does he state how the clocks would be reset; in addition, there is no evidence to support his speculation. There was also an attempt by Slusher and Rybka to invoke neutrinos. Those mysterious neutrinos seem to be a hot topic!

Slusher and Rybka also propose that neutrinos can change decay rates, citing an hypothesis by Dudley 40 that decay is triggered by neutrinos in a "neutrino sea" and that changes in the neutrino flux might affect decay rates. This argument has been refuted by Brush 20 , who points out that Dudley's hypothesis not only requires rejection of both relativity and quantum mechanics, two of the most spectacularly successful theories in modern science, but is disproved by recent experiments. Dudley himself rejects the conclusions drawn from his hypothesis by Slusher and Rybka , noting that the observed changes in decay rates are insufficient to change the age of the Earth by more than a few percent Dudley, personal communication, , quoted in 20, p.

Thus, even if Slusher and Rybka were correct--which they are not--the measured age of the Earth would still exceed 4 billion years. Dalrymple goes on to debunk several other creationists attacks on the reliability of the radiometric decay rates used in geochronology. Judging from the above, it is easy to see that creationists are indulging in wild fishing expeditions.

Compare their flighty arguments to the solid support provided by theoretical work, laboratory testing, and, for the shorter half-lives, actual observation, and add to that the statistical consistency of the dates obtained, including numerous cross-checks between different "clocks," and only one conclusion is left. The radiometric decay rates used in dating are totally reliable.

They are one of the safest bets in all of science. With at least one notable exception on the books, plants and animals get their carbon from the atmosphere.

Plants take it in directly, and animals eat the plants. Thus, it gets passed up the food chain. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that the carbon in living plants and animals is in reasonable equilibrium with the atmospheric carbon Some creationists, however, have claimed that certain plants can reject carbon in favor of carbon Because of the chemical similarity of carbon and carbon, it is unlikely that such plants could deviate much from the ratio of C to C found in the atmosphere.

Neither freak cases nor small deviations pose much of a problem for radiocarbon dating, which, after all, works well with a wide variety of plant and animal species. Hence, we only have to worry about the initial concentration of C in the atmosphere. Topic R1 shows that the level of C in the atmosphere has not varied appreciably over tens of thousands of years. Therefore, the initial C content is known for any reasonable sample!

The notable exception involves certain mollusks, which get much of their carbon from dissolved limestone. Since limestone is very old it contains very little carbon Thus, in getting some of their carbon from limestone, these mollusks "inherit" some of the limestone's old age! That is, the limestone carbon skews the normal ratio between C and C found in living things. If one dates such mollusks, one must be extra careful in interpreting the data.

Not every mollusk shell presents such problems, and the dating of other material might yield a cross-check. Further study might even allow correction tables. The discovery has strengthened the carbon method, not weakened it! By the way, shouldn't the creationist be worried over the old, carbon age of the limestone?

Why is it that limestone has so little C in it? Partial contamination, say of a block of wood, may affect its different parts to different degrees. Insect burrows, cracks, and partial decay may allow contamination later on to affect those portions of the sample unequally. However, there are laboratory techniques, often ingenious, for dealing with such problems. If the sample shows evidence of being hopelessly contaminated it is pitched. Some samples, such as a section of a tree trunk, may well contain material of considerably different ages. The interior portion of a tree trunk could easily be several hundred years older than the outer portions.

In summing up this point, we do know within good limits what the initial C was for any reasonable sample. A sample will not have different ratios of carbon unless it has been contaminated or reflects a genuine range of ages. In the case of carbon dating, the daughter product is ordinary nitrogen and plays no role in the dating process.

We are only interested in tallying the original C still present in the sample, the surviving "parent" isotope. The C that is incorporated in the carbon structure of cellulose and the other structural materials of living plants and animals is not going to do much migrating after burial.

If structural carbon migrated easily there soon wouldn't be any cellulose, lignin, chitin or other structural carbon compounds left in the soil! A piece of wood, for example, would soon turn into a formless cloud of graphite or soot in the soil, with perhaps a little ash marking the original shape!

Clearly, that is not something which normally happens. Residues or solutions which do migrate can usually be washed out of the structural matrix of the sample with various chemicals. To put it another way, we might imagine a piece of buried wood as being something like a sponge.

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Any carbon-containing liquid originally possessed by that sponge might well leak over time and be replaced by something else. However, unless the sponge itself disintegrates, the carbon which holds its fibers together must stay put. Thus, by choosing a sample that is structurally intact, one may rule out any significant loss of C If the liquid impurities in our sponge can be washed and squeezed out, or estimated in some way, then we may be able to date the sponge structural component of our sample itself and get a good date even if non-structural carbon had been lost in a manner that would upset the isotope ratio.

A sample, of course, can be contaminated if organic material rich in fresh atmospheric C soaks or diffuses into it. Such contamination may occur in the ground or during the processing of the sample in the laboratory. However, such contamination will make the sample appear younger than its true age.

Consequently, with regards to carbon dating, creationists are barking up the wrong tree on the contamination issue! Laboratories, of course, do have techniques for identifying and correcting contamination. There are various methods of cleaning the material, and the activity of each rinse can be measured. Lab contamination and technique can be checked by running blanks. A careful choice of samples will often minimize contamination.

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Dating various portions of a sample is another kind of check that may be performed. Often there are cross-checks. Samples from top to bottom of a peat bog gave reasonable time intervals Science , vol. The calibrated C method confirmed Egyptian records, and most of the Aegean dates which were cross-dated with Egyptian dates were confirmed American Scientist , May-June The marvelous agreement with tree-ring data, after correction for variations in the earth's magnetic field, has already been mentioned.

Carbon dating thus presents a deadly challenge to young-earth creationists. If an old date is reasonably accurate, they're out of business; if an old date is bad due to contamination, then they are still out of business because the true date is most likely older still. It hardly seems fair, but that's the way it is. With that in mind, let's look at a few carbon dates. Egyptian barley samples have been found which date to 17,, years old Science , April 7, On page the author explains some of the professional care which stands behind his use of the carbon method.

A wooden walkway buried in a peat bog in England has been dated to about BC by the carbon method Scientific American , August , p. Odd, that Noah's flood neither destroyed it nor deposited thick sediments on top of it!