Flood of fossil fuel emissions threatens to make age-calculation method unreliable
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The accuracy of carbon dating may soon be a thing of the past.
Carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels threaten the method’s ability to definitively pinpoint the age of organic materials, new research suggests. The extra carbon flooding the atmosphere dilutes the relative number of radioactive carbon atoms that are vital to the dating method. By 2050, the age of fresh organic matter will appear indistinguishable from material created in A.D. 1050, predicts Heather Graven, an atmospheric scientist at Imperial College London. Her work appears online July 20 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“It’s quite rapid,” Graven says. “By the end of the century, the atmosphere will look a couple thousand years [older than it really is]. Some of the ways that we use radiocarbon now will be less effective.”
Carbon dating can identify how long