Icelandic Freshwater Radiocarbon Reservoir Effects

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Project Details

Title:Icelandic Freshwater Radiocarbon Reservoir Effects
Abstract:The radiocarbon levels in carbon from freshwater systems of lakes and rivers can be lower than in carbon from the terrestrial biosphere. This makes freshwater carbon appear anomalously old when it is radiocarbon dated. In Iceland, freshwater systems are frequently affected by a Freshwater 14C reservoir effect, or FRE, due to inputs of ancient carbon from geothermal systems, and can appear several thousand years older than equivalent terrestrial samples. These FREs affect not only freshwater biota such as fish, but also organisms that consumed freshwater resources, such as pigs and humans.

The present project centres on Myvanssveit, in the northern interior highlands of Iceland, where a large FRE has been identified in Lake Myvatn. The Norse inhabitants of the region relied upon a resource based that included freshwater resources, and consequently bone collagen from humans and pigs within the region may be affected by a FRE.

The ongoing project aims to characterise and quantify the FRE within this region, and explore its impact upon 14C dating of Norse communities.

Sponsors/Funders: National Science Foundation of America
National Environmental Research Council (UK)
The Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland
The Royal Scottish Geographical Society
Project Start Year:2006

Account Owner

Contact: Philippa Ascough
Postal Address: SUERC, Rankine Avenue, East Kilbride.
Post Code: G75 0QF

Project Collaborators

Name: Mike J. Church
Institution: Durham University
Address: Dept of Archaeology Durham University
Postcode: DH1 3LE
Country: UK
Name: Gordon Cook
Institution: SUERC University of Glasgow
Address: SUERC Rankine Avenue East Kilbride
Postcode: G75 0QF
Country: UK
Phone: 01355270136

Project Content

icon An Icelandic Freshwater Radiocarbon Reservoir Effect: Implications for lacustrine 14C chronologies

P L Ascough, G T Cook, H Hastie, E Dunbar, M J Church, Einarsson, T H McGovern, A J Dugmore. (2011). An Icelandic Freshwater Radiocarbon Reservoir Effect: Implications for lacustrine 14C chronologies. The Holocene 21(7), 1073-1080.

A freshwater radiocarbon (14C) reservoir effect (FRE) is a 14C age offset between the atmospheric and freshwater carbon reservoirs. FREs can be on the order of 10 000 14C yr in extreme examples and are a crucial consideration for 14C dating of palaeoenvironmental and archaeological samples. Correction for a FRE may be possible, provided the FRE and the proportion of FRE-affected carbon within a sample can be accurately quantified. However, although such correction is desirable for affected samples, it is essential that such correction is accurate in order to produce useful chronological information. Accuracy of FRE correction can be limited by spatial variation in FRE within a freshwater system, but despite this there is currently a paucity of information to identify and quantify such variability within affected systems. Here we present results of a study that investigates the effects of spatial FRE variation upon dating accuracy within the freshwater system of Lake Mvatn, northern Iceland. A substantial FRE (>10 000 14C yr) has previously been identified in archaeological and modern samples from the region, which shows the potential for considerable spatial variability. The study also assesses the use of δ13C and δ15N in age correction of affected samples. The results show that benthic detritus and organisms at primary trophic levels from locations within the lake are affected by a FRE of at least 3500 14C yr, with clear spatial variation resulting in 14C age differences of up to 7670 14C yr between samples. There is a broad correlation between stable isotope values and FRE within the data set...

Project Location

Latitude: 65.60671°N
Longitude: 16.98624°W