The Ugly and the Beautiful: Versatile Uses of the 14C Bomb Peak

Walter Kutschera (U Vienna)
Event Date and Time: 
Thu, 2017-08-24 14:00 - 15:00
TRIUM Auditorium

Above-ground nuclear weapons testing in the early 1960s increased the 14C content of atmospheric CO2 by a factor of two. After the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963, this 14C excess rapidly decreased through the global CO2 cycle and today has almost reached pre-nuclear levels. This created the so-called "14C bomb peak", a rapidly changing 14C-label for any material which was in exchange with CO2 during the second half of the 20th century. Applications of the 14C bomb peak touch many domains of our environment at large including the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, and lithosphere. One of the most exciting applications is the age determination of cells in the human brain. The 14C bomb peak can also be used for forensic studies, e.g. to determine the birth or death of a person, to discover frauds of precious pieces of art and to check on illicit trading of ivory. Another important use is the study of the CO2 cycle itself, particularly pertaining to the sequestering of anthropogenic CO2 in oceans and soil. This talk will attempt to convey the wide-ranging use of the 14C bomb peak, a beautiful isotopic marker created unintentionally during the (ugly) period of nuclear weapons testing.


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