Using Stable Carbon Isotopes to Quantify Radiocarbon Reservoir Age Offsets in the Coastal Black Sea Academic Article uri icon


  • AbstractConstraining radiocarbon (14C) reservoir age offsets is critical to deriving accurate calendar-age chronologies from 14C dating of materials which did not draw carbon directly from the atmosphere. The application of 14C dating to such materials is severely limited in hydrologically sensitive environments like the Black Sea because of the difficulty to quantify reservoir age offsets, which can vary quickly and significantly through time, due to the dynamics of the biogeochemical cycling of carbon. Here we reconstruct 14C reservoir age offsets (Rshell-atm) of Holocene bivalve shells from the coastal Black Sea relatively to their contemporaneous atmosphere. We show that the 14C reservoir age offset and the stable carbon isotope composition of bivalve shells are linearly correlated in this region. From a biogeochemical standpoint, this suggests that inorganic stable carbon isotope and 14C compositions of Black Sea coastal waters are controlled by the balance between autochthonous primary productivity and heterotrophic respiration of allochthonous pre-aged terrestrial organic matter supplied by rivers. This provided an important implication for Black Sea geochronology as the reservoir age offset of 14C-dated bivalve shell can be inferred from its stable carbon isotope composition. Our results provide a fundamental and inexpensive geochemical tool which will considerably improve the accuracy of Holocene calendar age chronologies in the Black Sea.

publication date

  • February 2019