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Are the Fractionation Corrections Correct: Are the Isotopic Shifts for 14C/12C Ratios in Physical Processes and Chemical Reactions Really Twice Those for 13C/12C?

John Southon


Conventional radiocarbon calculations correct for isotopic fractionation using an assumed value of 2.0 for the fractionation of 14C relative to 13C. In other words, isotopic discrimination in physical and chemical processes is assumed to cause relative shifts in 14C/12C ratios that are exactly double those of 13C/12C. This paper analyzes a 1984 experiment that produced a value for the fractionation ratio in photosynthesis of 2.3, which is used to this day by some researchers in the fields of hydrology and speleothem geochemistry. While the value of 2.3 is almost certainly incorrect, theoretical work suggests that the true value may indeed deviate from 2.0, which would have significant implications for 14C calculations.

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