The University of Arizona

The Influence of Soil Organic Matter Age Spectrum on the Reconstruction of Atmospheric 14C Levels via Stalagmites

J Fohlmeister, B Kromer, A Mangini


The imprint of the radiocarbon bomb peak was detected in the top of stalagmite ER-77 from Grotta di Ernesto (NE Italy). This recently grown stalagmite reveals a reservoir age, also known as dead carbon fraction (dcf), of ~1050 14C yr, or 12%. By applying a 14C soil-karst model, the age spectrum of soil organic matter (SOM) as well as the CO2 contribution of the single SOM reservoirs to the total soil CO2 can be derived. Under the assumption of constant vegetation, meaning both vegetation density and the age spectrum of SOM, it is possible to derive the soil-air 14C activity of the past using the 14C calibration curve (IntCal04). Hence, it is also possible to calculate an artificial stalagmite 14C data set covering the last 25,000 yr with parameters determined for stalagmite ER-77. With this artificially constructed data set, we derived the hypothetical atmospheric 14C activity by using the common method of applying a constant dcf on the modeled 14C data set of the stalagmite. This theoretical approach allows to analyze the impact of a constant and variable SOM age spectrum on atmospheric 14C reconstructions performed with real stalagmite 14C measurements. We observe deviations between IntCal04 and the atmospheric 14C activity as derived with our modeled 14C data set, which are larger for older SOM than for younger SOM and vary in time up to 2 pMC, depending on the strength of the variations in the atmospheric 14C level. This value is comparable with the 1-? uncertainty given by IntCal04 for the last glacial. For a varying SOM age spectrum, the deviations between the calibration curve and 14C level of the atmosphere reconstructed with a stalagmite exceed 3 pMC, which is larger than the 1-σ uncertainty of IntCal04. In general, the SOM has smoothing, shifting, and 14C-depleting effects on the stalagmite 14C record and, therefore, on the stalagmite-derived atmospheric 14C activity. In this study, changes in soil-air pCO2 and carbonate dissolution conditions, which have also an important impact on the 14C record of a stalagmite, are not accounted for.

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