High resolution radiocarbon spike confirms tree ring dating with low sample depth

Meagan Walker, Alexis Mueller, Kathy Allen, Pavla Fenwick, Vikas Agrawal, Kevin Anchukaitis, Amy Hessl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Radiocarbon (14C) has been used to date carbon-rich objects in Earth science, archeology, and history since the 1940s. New methods, using spikes in 14C caused by solar proton events, can be used to annually date wood when crossdating is not possible, such as when sample size is low, samples are floating in time, or external disturbances lead to insecure dates. Here, we use a spike in radiocarbon during a solar energetic particle (SEP) event in 774/775 CE to confirm crossdating of a poorly-replicated King Billy pine (Athrotaxis selaginoides) chronology. Low sample depth between 1498 and 1523 CE (two trees) prevented confident dating of the early period of the chronology. Three core samples with strong correlation with the master chronology that likely included the 774/775 CE Miyake SEP event were identified for radiocarbon isotope analysis. We sectioned segments centered on the estimated 774/775 CE date and then isolated the holocellulose in each sample. Samples were sent to an accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) for radiocarbon measurements. The AMS data confirmed the crossdating accuracy of the tree ring series and reinforces the applicability of this technique to anchor poorly dated tree ring series in time. In addition, we found sample processing with a microtome proved superior for holocellulose extractions and yielded more accurate 14C measurements. We recommend sampling with a microtome, processing at least three samples per year, and including sample masses greater than 100 ug C to confirm dating using radiocarbon spikes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number126048
StatePublished - Feb 2023


  • Australia
  • Earlywood and latewood
  • King Billy pine
  • Subannual tree ring
  • Tasmania
  • Δ14C in 775 CE

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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