Carbon relative and radioactive dating
They have the same ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 as the atmosphere, and this same ratio is then carried up the food chain all the way to apex predators, like sharks.But when gas exchange is stopped, be it in a particular part of the body like in deposits in bones and teeth, or when the entire organism dies, the ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 begins to decrease.Here’s an example using the simplest atom, hydrogen. Carbon-14 is an unstable isotope of carbon that will eventually decay at a known rate to become carbon-12.Radiocarbon dating uses isotopes of the element carbon. Cosmic rays – high-energy particles from beyond the solar system – bombard Earth’s upper atmosphere continually, in the process creating the unstable carbon-14. Because it’s unstable, carbon-14 will eventually decay back to carbon-12 isotopes.It’s not absolutely constant due to several variables that affect the levels of cosmic rays reaching the atmosphere, such as the fluctuating strength of the Earth’s magnetic field, solar cycles that influence the amount of cosmic rays entering the solar system, climatic changes and human activities.Among the significant events that caused a temporary but significant spike in the atmospheric carbon-14 to carbon-12 ratio were above-ground nuclear test detonations in the two decades following World War II.The carbon dioxide is absorbed by plants, and the plants are eaten by animals, thus contaminating every living thing on earth with radioactive carbon. As time passes, the C14 in its tissues is converted back into nitrogen.
In The Cosmic Story of Carbon-14 Ethan Siegel writes: The only major fluctuation [in carbon-14] we know of occurred when we began detonating nuclear weapons in the open air, back in the mid-20th century.Radioactive carbon (Carbon 14) is formed in the upper atmosphere as a byproduct of cosmic radiation.Cosmic rays are positively charged atoms moving at enormous speeds.However, because it has too many neutrons for the number of protons it contains, it is not a stable atom.