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Radioactive carbon thus was visualized as gaining entrance wherever atmospheric carbon dioxide enters—into land plants by photosynthesis, into animals that feed on the plants, into marine and fresh waters as a dissolved component, and from there into aquatic plants and animals.
In short, all parts of the carbon cycle were seen to be invaded by the isotope carbon-14.
Unlike most isotopic dating methods, the conventional carbon-14 dating technique is not based on counting daughter isotopes.
It relies instead on the progressive decay or disappearance of the radioactive parent with time.
Expressed as a fraction of the contemporary level, they have been mathematically converted to ages through Improvements in measurement accuracy and the ever-mounting experience in applying carbon-14 dating have provided superior and more voluminous data with which to better answer Libby’s original questions.
It is now clear that carbon-14 is not homogeneously distributed among today’s plants and animals.
2015 Impact of fossil fuel emissions on atmospheric radiocarbon and various applications of radiocarbon over this century.
So low is such a carbon-14 level that no one had detected natural carbon-14 until Libby, guided by his own predictions, set out specifically to measure it.
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The occurrence of natural radioactive carbon in the atmosphere provides a unique opportunity to date organic materials as old as roughly 60,000 years.
Willard Libby of the United States began with his recognition that a process that had produced radiocarbon in the laboratory was also going on in Earth’s upper atmosphere—namely, the bombardment of nitrogen by free neutrons.
Newly created carbon-14 atoms were presumed to react with atmospheric oxygen to form ) molecules.