• Secular Variations of Cosmogenic 14C on Earth: Their Discovery and Interpretation

      Suess, Hans E. (American Journal of Science, 1986-01-01)
      Measurement of 14C in samples of wood of precisely known age have shown that the cosmogenic 14C content of the CO2 in the atmosphere has not remained constant during the period of time covered by radiocarbon dating. As the terrestrial atmosphere mixes with a time constant of less than 3 years, these variations must be essentially independent of geographic location. The 14C in atmospheric CO2 must be a quantity that, at a given time, pertains to the terrestrial atmosphere as a whole. Not only is its knowledge necessary for deriving accurate radiocarbon dates, but it is also valuable in connection with many geophysical and astrophysical problems. Unfortunately, progress in our knowledge of 14C variations in the terrestrial atmosphere has been delayed by hidden experimental errors in results obtained by many laboratories. By rigorous statistical analysis of the La Jolla results, it is now possible to show that the 14C variations are not simple random fluctuations but show distinct regularities. Similar patterns of variations have been found in the growth rate of trees during the last 5000 years. Measurements of radiogenic 10Be currently being done by European workers promise to conclusively elucidate the 14C findings.