Marine reservoir effect

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The marine reservoir effect is a phenomenon affecting radiocarbon dating. Because much of the carbon consumed by organisms in the ocean is older than that consumed by organisms on land, samples from marine life and from organisms that consumed a lot of sea-based foods while alive may appear older when tested than they truly are.[1] It is necessary to account for changes in the Earth's oceans to correct for the marine reservoir effect.[2]

Typically, affected radiocarbon dates appear c. 400 14C years older than they would if unaffected. But the effect is highly variable in space and time, and can reach 800 to 1200 14C years in Arctic regions.[2]

Notable cases[edit]

Since its initial discovery in the 1980s, a Viking burial site in England confounded archeologists. It contained coins and other physical materials associated with the late 800s CE, the time of the Great Danish Army, but the radiocarbon dating placed the roughly 300 bodies at a variety of different dates spanning centuries. In February 2018, a team out of the University of Bristol published a study attributing this to the large amounts of sea-based foods eaten by Vikings and placed the burial site in the late 800s.[1][3]


  1. ^ a b University of Bristol (February 2, 2018). "Radiocarbon dating reveals mass grave did date to the Viking age". Eurekalert. Retrieved February 4, 2018.
  2. ^ a b Philippa Ascough; Gordon Cook; Andrew Dugmore (December 1, 2005). "Methodological approaches to determining the marine radiocarbon reservoir effect" (PDF). Progress in Physical Geography: Earth and Environment. 29 (4): 532–547. doi:10.1191/0309133305pp461ra.
  3. ^ Catrine L. Jarman; Martin Biddle; Tom Higham; Christopher Bronk Ramsey (February 2, 2018). "The Viking Great Army in England: new dates from the Repton charnel" (PDF). Antiquity. 92 (361): 183–199. doi:10.15184/aqy.2017.196. Retrieved February 2, 2018.