Isotopes in Carbon Dating

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Carbon-14 is a weakly radioactive isotope of Carbon also called radiocarbon. Radiocarbon dating was developed as a technique to measure radioactivity (Andreev, 2007). C-14 dating is applied only to organic and inorganic substances but not applicable in metals. Science uses the radiocarbon technique that gives age estimates for carbon-based things originating from living organisms (Moon, 2004). Through this scientific method, the problem of determining the age of organic and inorganic matter that decomposed several years ago was solved. Age could be determined by a measure of the amount of carbon-14 isotope in the sample and comparing it to the internationally used reference standard (Andreev, 2007).Science utilizes radiocarbon dating technique to bring about a huge impact on modern man through this significant discovery. There is no other scientific method that has managed to revolutionize people’s understanding of both the present and the past events that happened thousands of years ago. Human science including archaeology uses radiocarbon dating to provide proof and disapprove theories. Advanced scientific studies in carbon-14 isotope have led to the development of other significant applications for the isotope including those in geology, hydrology, geophysics, biomedicine, paleoclimatology, oceanography and atmospheric science (Andreev, 2007).

Applications and Implications

Two stable, nonradioactive isotopes carbon-12  and carbon-13 are contained in carbon with additional traces of unstable isotope carbon-14 (Moon, 2004).The relatively short half-life of carbon-14 is 5730 years to mean that the amounts of carbon-14 in a sample is halve over the course of 5730 years due to radioactive decay. Plants and animals exchange carbon in the atmosphere but stop acquiring it when they die (Ferronskiĭ, & Poli︠a︡kov, 2012). Since carbon will decay because it is an unstable isotope, carbon-14 inside the animal or plant will continue to deteriorate at a constant rate. The proportional rate known of Carbon-14 can be used to calculate or date the period where the specific plant or animal lived. Science has applied radiocarbon dating to date many items such as samples of the Dead Sea Scroll, the Shroud of Turin, and other artifacts from Egypt to give a chronology of Dynastic Egypt and Otzi the Iceman (Ferronskiĭ, & Poli︠a︡kov, 2012). Scientific applications of the various Isotopes have facilitated the dating of biological and geological samples with high accuracy.

The implications of the scientific use of radiocarbon dating are vast. First, it is important to mention that the technique has its future challenges in that anything that dies after the 1940s a period that experienced the occurrence of nuclear bombs, nuclear reactors, and open-air atomic test, will be harder to precisely date using this method (Flanagan, Ehleringer, & Pataki, 2005). Future reliability of the technique is put in question based on the above explanation. Another implication of the flaws of radiocarbon dating is that scientists are only able to date back till 62000 years ago. This has made figuring out the age of dinosaur fossils and ancient mammals/reptiles difficult. In addition to that, the method is not extremely accurate because it is all done chemically, scientists still cannot find the exact time of death or decay. Though facing these drawbacks, the scientific application of isotope carbon dating saw a breakthrough in science that was a significant implication in the lives of humans because science was able to merge the past with the present (Flanagan, Ehleringer, & Pataki, 2005).  However, the steps involved in carbon dating should be performed strictly and any action done incorrectly can result to start of the procedure.

Environmental Impact

There is still a big challenge in determining future climate. Determination of ecological impacts of scientific application of isotope carbon dating is based on sophisticated modeling that depends on the quality of data they are based on (Moon, 2004). Environmental isotopes have impacted climatic changes investigation and environmental responses to the changes by being the tool used in the investigation process. Stable and unstable isotopes are stored in natural forms like sediments in the ocean, ice in Polar Regions and water in precipitation. Changes in the amount or type of isotope are accurately determined and checked to reconstruct an accurate climatic history (Stevenson, 2000). This information, in turn, can be utilized to study the interaction between sun and earth’s spheres that all affect climate. Furthermore, the technique can be used in the study of the atmosphere. The tracing of the carbon isotopes can be applied to study interactions between the ocean, atmosphere and land carbon tanks in future. Carbon (IV) oxide is a vital greenhouse gas thus analyzing how it moves essential to understand and know its role in climate change.


Science is applied in isotope carbon dating to facilitate the determination of the age of fossils, artifacts and other archeological material from the past. This application has solved the challenge of dating back of items from the past and present which was a barrier to some scientific research on different areas. The experimental form of isotope carbon dating saw a breakthrough in science that brought a significant implication in the lives of humans because science was able to merge the past with the present. Several applications have come along including measuring of decay products, the dating of fossil fuels, atmospheric studies, geophysics studies, archeology among others. Studying environmental isotopes serves a vital application in knowing the past climatic changes that hold the keys to identifying coming modifications which may affect global temperatures, energy availability, drinking water amounts and food adequacy.

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  1. Andreev, B. (2007). Separation of isotopes of biogenic elements. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
  2. Ferronskiĭ, V., & Poli︠a︡kov, V. (2012). Isotopes of the Earth’s hydrosphere. Dordrecht: Springer.
  3. Flanagan, L., Ehleringer, J., & Pataki, D. (2005). Stable isotopes and biosphere-atmosphere interactions. San Diego: Elsevier Academic.
  4. Moon, D. (2004). Carbon dating, cold fusion, and a curve ball. Victoria, B.C.: Trafford.
  5. Stevenson, N. (2000). Isotope Production and Applications in the 21st Century. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Company.
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