Letter | Published:

Fossil carbon in coastal sediments

Abstract

Fossil carbon, as present in coal, oil and their derivatives, is free from radioactive 14C and its presence in even small concentrations within sedimentary materials can lead to anomalously old radiocarbon ages. For example, Erlenkeuser et al.1 have noted artificially high 14C ages in the upper 20 cm of Baltic Sea sediments in correlation with enhanced heavy metal concentrations. Both findings are consistent with the growth of industrial activity in this location, and the radiocarbon age increase has therefore in the past been regarded as an approximate measure of the extent of pollution of sediment organics by industrial fossil fuels. The results presented here will indicate that the latter interpretation is not always valid and that in studies of coastal marine sediments the incorporation of natural fossil carbon in the samples can introduce considerable error.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1

    Erlenkeuser, H., Suess, E. & Wilkomm, H. Geochim cosmochim. Acta 38, 823–842 (1974).

  2. 2

    Baxter, M. S. & Harkness, D. D. Proc. I.A.E.A. Symp. Isotope Ratios as Pollutant Source and Behaviour Indicators 135–141 (1975).

  3. 3

    Swan, D. S. thesis, Univ. Glasgow (1978).

  4. 4

    Stenhouse, M. J. & Baxter, M. S. Radiocarbon 18, 161–171 (1976).

  5. 5

    Campbell, J. A. & Baxter, M. S. Radiocarbon 21, 171–179 (1979).

  6. 6

    Broecker, W. S. & Olson, E. A. Radiocarbon 3, 176–204 (1961).

  7. 7

    Natural Environment Research Council, Clyde Study Group, Report, NERC publ. ser. C, No. 11 (1974).

  8. 8

    Pennington, W. Fresh water Biol. 3, 363–382 (1973).

  9. 9

    O'Sullivan, P. E., Oldfield, F. & Batterbee, R. W. in Quaternary Plant Ecology (eds Birks, H. J. B. & West, R. G.) 267–278 (Blackwell, Oxford, 1973).

  10. 10

    Pennington, W. in The Effect of Man on the Landscape: The Highland Zone (res. Rep. Br. Council for Archaeology, 1975).

  11. 11

    Dickson, J. H. et al. Nature 274, 548–553 (1978).

Download references

Author information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.