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Testing the use of bomb radiocarbon to date the surface layers of blanket peat

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Mark Henry Garnett, Professor Tony Stevenson


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The recently formed surface layers of peatlands are archives of past environmental conditions and can have a temporal resolution considerably greater than deeper layers. The low density and conditions of fluctuating water table have hindered attempts to construct chronologies for these peats. We tested the use of the radiocarbon bomb pulse to date recently accumulated peat in a blanket mire. The site was chosen because the peat profiles contained independent chronological markers in the form of charcoal-rich layers produced from known burning events. We compared chronologies derived from accelerator mass spectrometry 14C analysis of plant macrofossils against these chronological markers. The bomb 14C-derived chronologies were in broad agreement with the charcoal dating evidence. However, there were uncertainties in the final interpretation of the 14C results because the pattern of 14C concentration in the peat profiles did not follow closely the known atmospheric 14C record. Furthermore, samples of different macrofossil materials from the same depth contained considerable differences in 14C. Suggested explanations for the observed results include the following: i) minor disturbance at the site, ii) in-situ contamination of the 14C samples by carbonaceous soot, and iii) differential incorporation of plant material during blanket peat growth.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Garnett MH, Stevenson AC

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Radiocarbon

Year: 2004

Volume: 46

Issue: 2

Pages: 841-851

Print publication date: 01/01/2004

ISSN (print): 0033-8222

ISSN (electronic):