Sunday, January 25, 2009

Not sure if I should be pleased or disappointed...

Yesterday I was musing on radiocarbon dating. (Yeah, well what do you daydream about in the shower?)

The idea behind the technique is that carbon 14 is constantly made in the atmosphere and decays at a known rate. So the ratio of carbon 14 and carbon 12 in living things will be about the same as in air. But things which are dead will slowly loose their carbon 14 and so you can see how long they have been dead from how much carbon 14 is left.

The thought I had was that if the concentration of CO2 varies over time, then either depleted carbon is being added to the system or enriched carbon is being taken out of the system. So, assumptions about the past ratios of 12C/14C could be wrong. Just as an example: If we add carbon to the atmosphere by burning coal, we are adding exclusively 12C since coal is very old and all the 14C has disintegrated.

It turns out that someone has thought of this already: Hans Suess. So, this can be looked at in one or two ways. If nobody had thought of it already then either the idea has no merit (I didn't consider something important) or it is genius. Since it has already been thought of, it does have merit but is unremarkable since others have already come up with the same idea.


Trooper York said...

Hey forget that and concerntrate on internet dating. Hey wait you're married like me. You shouldn't be thinking about dating at all dude. What's the matter with you.

dbp said...

I am a weird science geek, but it is okay because my wife is too. Although not as much as I am.

Christy said...

Way cool. Be pleased. That is how Newton and Leibniz could independently invent calculus. Something in the air that prepared minds pull together.

What do you think about the ideas being discussed last year about the effect of solar activity on radioactive decay?

Back in the early 80s, before we knew much about AIDS, I remember reading an article in "Nature" about the different demographics in Africa and the States and had an epiphany about the transmission. Immediately called up a girlfriend at NIH and learned they had just started a study based on that very idea. Didn't pan out, but I was pleased that my brain was processing fresh information like the pros in an area not my own.

Here, by way of Trooper York's blog. I like what I'm reading.

dbp said...

Thanks Christy,

You are very kind.