Assumptions about radiometric dating

Archaeology and other human sciences use radiocarbon dating to prove or disprove theories.

Over the years, carbon 14 dating has also found applications in geology, hydrology, geophysics, atmospheric science, oceanography, paleoclimatology, and even biomedicine.

Plants and animals naturally incorporate both the abundant C-12 isotope and the much rarer radiocarbon isotope into their tissues in about the same proportions as the two occur in the atmosphere during their lifetimes.

When a creature dies, it ceases to consume more radiocarbon while the C-14 already in its body continues to decay back into nitrogen.

This position came to be known as uniformitarianism, but within it we must distinguish between uniformity of natural law (which nearly all of us would accept) and the increasingly questionable assumptions of uniformity of process, uniformity of rate and uniformity of outcome.

That is the background to the intellectual drama being played out in this series of papers.

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When they die, they stop exchanging carbon with the biosphere and their carbon 14 content then starts to decrease at a rate determined by the law of radioactive decay.

Roman poet Lucretius, intellectual heir to the Greek atomists, believed its formation must have been relatively recent, given that there were no records going back beyond the Trojan War.

The Talmudic rabbis, Martin Luther and others used the biblical account to extrapolate back from known history and came up with rather similar estimates for when the earth came into being.

Melted snow was spotted over most of the Ross Ice Shelf, a thick platform of floating ice that channels about a third of the ice flowing from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet into the ocean.

The study, "January 2016 extensive summer melt in West Antarctica favoured by strong El Niño," was led by AWARE scientist Julien Nicolas of Ohio State University and appears in the June 15 issue of the journal Nature Communications.

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