Pollution can affect not only the present but even the past or more precisely our measurement of age. A recent study by Heather Graven, an atmospheric scientist at Imperial College London showed that carbon dating may suffer drastically if pollution levels continue to rise.
Emissions could drastically “age” the atmosphere over the coming decades and make accurate carbon dating more difficult, Scientific American reports based on Graven’s paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Graven’s study shows how drastically carbon emissions impose a “dilution” effect, that is apparent reduction in numbers of radioactive carbon C-14 due to increase in normal carbon C-12.
The carbon dating method of estimating the age of an artifact bases its result on the quantity of carbon 14 isotope it contains. The lower the C-14 in a sample, the older it is.
Environment polluted with carbon emissions increases the presence of normal carbon. This in turn makes objects seem, through the eyes of carbon dating, older than they are.
“At the rate fossil fuel emissions are currently increasing, by 2050 a new T-shirt would have the same radiocarbon date as a robe worn by William the Conqueror a thousand years earlier,” the study report says.
This could be a big problem for researchers in the future, as carbon dating is used for many purposes, including things like assessing artwork, analyzing and dating historical discoveries, and more.
Ajith Kumar S