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A calculation or (more accurately) a direct comparison of carbon-14 levels in a sample, with tree ring or cave-deposit carbon-14 levels of a known age, then gives the wood or animal sample age-since-formation.

Carbon-14 is produced in the upper layers of the troposphere and the stratosphere by thermal neutrons absorbed by nitrogen atoms.

Carbon dioxide also dissolves in water and thus permeates the oceans, but at a slower rate.

has been estimated to be roughly 12 to 16 years in the northern hemisphere.

One of the frequent uses of the technique is to date organic remains from archaeological sites.

Plants fix atmospheric carbon during photosynthesis, so the level of C level for the calculation can either be estimated, or else directly compared with known year-by-year data from tree-ring data (dendrochronology) up to 10,000 years ago (using overlapping data from live and dead trees in a given area), or else from cave deposits (speleothems), back to about 45,000 years before the present.

Such deposits often contain trace amounts of carbon-14.

These amounts can vary significantly between samples, ranging up to 1% of the ratio found in living organisms, a concentration comparable to an apparent age of 40,000.), or other unknown secondary sources of carbon-14 production.

Small amounts of carbon-14 are not easily detected by typical Geiger–Müller (G-M) detectors; it is estimated that G-M detectors will not normally detect contamination of less than about 100,000 disintegrations per minute (0.05 µCi).

The rates of disintegration of potassium-40 and carbon-14 in the normal adult body are comparable (a few thousand disintegrated nuclei per second).

This is small compared to the doses from potassium-40 (0.39 m Sv/year) and radon (variable).

It is typically released to the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide at BWRs, and methane at PWRs., radioactive carbon dioxide.

The gas mixes rapidly and becomes evenly distributed throughout the atmosphere (the mixing timescale in the order of weeks).

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