Atmospheric 14C/12C changes during the last glacial period from Hulu Cave

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Science  14 Dec 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6420, pp. 1293-1297
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau0747

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An accurate, precise record of the carbon-14 (14C) content of the atmosphere is important for developing chronologies in climate change, archaeology, and many other disciplines. Cheng et al. provide a record that covers the full range of the 14C dating method (∼54,000 years), using paired measurements of 14C/12C and thorium-230 (230Th) ages from two stalagmites from Hulu Cave, China. The advantage of matching absolute 230Th ages and 14C/12C allowed the authors to fashion a seamless record from a single source with low uncertainties, particularly in the older sections.

Science, this issue p. 1293


Paired measurements of 14C/12C and 230Th ages from two Hulu Cave stalagmites complete a precise record of atmospheric 14C covering the full range of the 14C dating method (~54,000 years). Over the last glacial period, atmospheric 14C/12C ranges from values similar to modern values to values 1.70 times higher (42,000 to 39,000 years ago). The latter correspond to 14C ages 5200 years less than calibrated ages and correlate with the Laschamp geomagnetic excursion followed by Heinrich Stadial 4. Millennial-scale variations are largely attributable to Earth’s magnetic field changes and in part to climate-related changes in the oceanic carbon cycle. A progressive shift to lower 14C/12C values between 25,000 and 11,000 years ago is likely related, in part, to progressively increasing ocean ventilation rates.

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