Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Use of Radiocarbon Measurements in Atmospheric Studies 1

  • M R Manning (a1), D C Lowe (a1), W H Melhuish (a1), R J Sparks (a1), Gavin Wallace (a1), C A M Brenninkmeijer (a1) and R C McGill (a1)...


14C measured in trace gases in clean air helps to determine the sources of such gases, their long-range transport in the atmosphere, and their exchange with other carbon cycle reservoirs. In order to separate sources, transport and exchange, it is necessary to interpret measurements using models of these processes. We present atmospheric 14CO2 measurements made in New Zealand since 1954 and at various Pacific Ocean sites for shorter periods. We analyze these for latitudinal and seasonal variation, the latter being consistent with a seasonally varying exchange rate between the stratosphere and troposphere. The observed seasonal cycle does not agree with that predicted by a zonally averaged global circulation model. We discuss recent accelerator mass spectrometry measurements of atmospheric 14CH4 and the problems involved in determining the fossil fuel methane source. Current data imply a fossil carbon contribution of ca 25%, and the major sources of uncertainty in this number are the uncertainty in the nuclear power source of 14CH4, and in the measured value for δ 14C in atmospheric methane.

    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      The Use of Radiocarbon Measurements in Atmospheric Studies 1
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      The Use of Radiocarbon Measurements in Atmospheric Studies 1
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      The Use of Radiocarbon Measurements in Atmospheric Studies 1
      Available formats



Hide All
Cleveland, W S 1979 Robust locally weighted regression and smoothing scatterplots. Jour Am Statistical Assoc 74: 829836.
Cleveland, W S, Freeny, E and Graedel, T E 1983 The seasonal component of atmospheric CO2: Information from new approaches to the decomposition of seasonal time series. Jour Geophys Research 88: 1093410946.
Cleveland, W S and McRae, J E 1989 The use of loess and STL in the analysis of atmospheric CO2 and related data. In Elliott, W P, ed, The statistical treatment of CO2 data records. NOAA Tech Memo ERL ARL-173, Silver Spring, Maryland.
Davidson, J A, Cantrell, C A, Tyler, S C, Shetter, R E, Cicerone, R J and Calvert, J G 1987 Carbon kinetic isotope effect in the reaction of CH4 with HO. Jour Geophys Research 92: 21952199.
Ehhalt, D H 1973 Methane in the atmosphere. In Carbon and the biosphere. Brookhaven symposium in biology , 24th, Proc. Upton, New York, USAEC, CONF-720510.
Enting, I G 1987 On the use of smoothing splines to filter CO2 data. Jour Geophys Research 92: 1097710984.
Enting, I G and Pearman, G I 1983 Refinements to a one-dimensional carbon cycle model. CSIRO Div Atmos Research tech paper 3.
Fraser, P J, Hyson, P, Rasmussen, R A, Crawford, A J and Khalil, M A K 1986 Methane, carbon monoxide and methylchloroform in the Southern Hemisphere. Jour Atmos Chem 4: 342.
Golombek, A and Prinn, R G 1986 A global three-dimensional model of the circulation and chemistry of CFCl3, CF2Cl2, CH3CCl3, CCl4, and N2O. Jour Geophys Research 91: 39854001.
Heimann, M and Keeling, C D 1986 Merìdional eddy diffusion model of the transport of atmospheric carbon dioxide, 1. Seasonal carbon cycle over the tropical Pacific ocean. Jour Geophys Research 91: 77657781.
Karlen, I, Olsson, IU, Kallberg, P and Kilicci, S 1964 Absolute determination of the activity of two 14C dating standards. Arkiv Geofysik 4: 465471.
Keeling, C D, Mook, W G and Tans, P P 1979 Recent trends in the 13C/12C ratio of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Nature 277: 121123.
Khalil, M A K and Rasmussen, R A 1983 Sources, sinks and seasonal cycles of atmospheric methane. Jour Geophys Research 88: 51315144.
Lal, D and Peters, B 1962 Cosmic ray produced isotopes and their application to problems in geophysics. Progress in elementary particle and cosmic ray physics. Amsterdam, North Holland 6: 174.
Levin, I (ms) 1985 Atmospheric CO2 in continental Europe—An alternative approach to clean air CO2 data. Paper presented at IAMAP mtg, Atmospheric carbon dioxide its sources, sinks, and global transport, Kandersteg, Switzerland.
Levin, I, Kromer, B, Schoch-Fischer, H, Bruns, M, Münnich, M, Berdau, D, Vogel, J C and Münnich, K O 1985, 25 years of tropospheric 14C observations in central Europe. Radiocarbon 27(1): 119.
Logan, J A, Prather, M J, Wofsy, S C and McElroy, M B 1981 Tropospheric chemistry: A global perspective. Jour Geophys Research 86: 72107254.
Lowe, D C, Brenninkmeijer, CAM, Manning, M R, Sparks, R and Wallace, G 1988 Radiocarbon determination of atmospheric methane at Baring Head, New Zealand. Nature 332: 522525.
Mahlman, J D, Levy, H and Moxim, W J 1980 Three dimensional tracer structure and behaviour as simulated in two ozone precursor experiments. Jour Atmos Sci 37: 655685.
Mahlman, J D and Moxim, W J 1978 Tracer simulation using a global general circulation model: results from a midlatitude instantaneous source experiment. Jour Atmos Sci 35:13401374.
Nydal, R and Lovseth, K 1983 Tracing bomb 14C in the atmosphere 1962–1980. Jour Geophys Research 88: 36213642.
Oeschger, H, Siegenthaler, U, Schotterer, U and Gugelmann, A 1975 A box diffusion model to study the carbon dioxide exchange in nature. Tellus 27: 168192.
Peng, T-H, Broecker, W S, Freyer, H D and Trumbore, S 1983 A deconvolution of the tree ring based δ13C record. Jour Geophys Research 88: 36093620.
Plumb, R A and Mahlman, J D 1987 The zonally averaged transport characteristics of the GFDL general circulation /transport model. Jour Atmos Sci 4:298326.
Plumb, R A and McConalogue, D D 1988 On the meridional structure of long-lived tropospheric constituents. Jour Geophys Research 93: 15,89715,913.
Povinec, P, Chudy, M and Sivo, A 1986 Anthropogenic radiocarbon: past present and future. In Stuiver, M and Kra, R S, eds, Internatl 14C conf, 12th, Proc. Radiocarbon 28(2A): 668672.
Prinn, R, Cunnold, D, Rasmussen, R, Simmonds, P, Alyea, F, Crawford, A Fraser, P and Rosen, R 1987 Atmospheric trends in methylchloroform and the global average for the hydroxyl radical. Science 238: 945950.
Rafter, T A 1955 14C variations in nature and the effect on radiocarbon dating. New Zealand Jour Sci Tech 37: 2038.
Rafter, T A and Fergusson, G J 1959 Atmospheric radiocarbon as a tracer in geophysical circulation problems. In United Nations peaceful uses of atomic energy , Internatl conf, 2nd, Proc. London, Pergamon Press.
Rafter, T A and O'Brien, B J 1970 Exchange rates between the atmosphere and the ocean as shown by recent C14 measurements in the south Pacific. In Olsson, I U, ed, Radiocarbon variations and absolute chronology , Nobel symposium, 12th, Proc. Stockholm, Almqvist & Wiksell.
Reinsch, C M 1967 Smoothing by spline functions. Num Math 10:177183.
Sarmiento, J L and Gwinn, E 1986 Strontium 90 fallout prediction. Jour Geophys Research 91: 76317646.
Schell, W R, Sauzay, G and Payne, B R 1974 World distribution of environmental tritium. In Physical behaviour of radioactive contaminants in the atmosphere , IAEA and WMO symposium, Proc. Vienna, IAEA-STI/PUB/354, IAEA.
Steele, L P, Fraser, P J, Rasmussen, R A, Khalil, M A K, Conway, T J, Crawford, A J, Gammon, R H, Masarie, K A and Thoning, K W 1987 The global distribution of methane in the troposphere. Jour Atmos Chem 5: 125171.
Stevens, C M and Engelkemeir, A 1988 Stable carbon isotopic composition of methane from some natural and anthropogenic sources. Jour Geophys Research 93: 725733.
Stevens, C M, Krout, L, Walling, D and Venters, A 1972 The isotopic composition of atmospheric carbon monoxide. Earth Planetary Sci Letters 16: 147165.
Stuiver, M and Polach, H A 1977 Discussion: Reporting of 14C data. Radiocarbon 19(3): 355363.
Taylor, C B 1968 A comparison of tritium and strontium-90 fallout in the southern hemisphere. Tellus 20: 559576.
Telegadas, K 1971 The seasonal atmospheric distribution and inventories of excess carbon-14 from March 1955 to July 1969. US Atomic Energy Comm rept HASL-243.
Trabalka, J R, ed 1985 Atmospheric carbon dioxide and the global carbon cycle. US Dept Energy rept DOE/ER-0239.
Tyler, S C, Blake, D R and Rowland, F S 1987 13C/12C ratio in methane from the flooded Amazon forest. Jour Geophys Research 92: 10441048.
Volz, A, Ehhalt, D H and Derwent, R G 1981 Seasonal and latitudinal variation of 14CO and the tropospheric concentration of OH radicals. Jour Geophys Research 86: 51635171.
Walker, J C G 1977 Evolution of the atmosphere. New York, MacMillan.


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed