Conference Objectives

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Exploring the Potential of RPO to Study the Global Carbon Cycle

A fundamental challenge in environmental radiocarbon (14C) analyses is the ubiquity of carbon in natural Earth surface environments. Willard Libby wrote in 1955 that, “This means, of course, that the chemical form in which the carbon is bonded may have real bearing on the validity of the result obtained.” Since then, environmental radiocarbon (14C) measurements have generally been conducted on samples from which carbon has been extracted to represent a single source or process. Chemical purification processes have been the main tool to isolate pools, compound classes, or even compounds of interest for 14C studies. However, in pools of carbon with exceptionally heterogeneous combinations of carbon molecules, chemical separation does not yield enough carbon for a measurement and is not capable of providing information about the entirety of carbon in the sample. Thermochemical separation of organic carbon components, using either pyrolysis or oxidative release over a steadily ramped temperature (Ramped PyrOx), is a relatively new concept in radiocarbon analysis. Although thermochemical separation is less chemically precise, it efficiently exploits differences in stability of organic matter and provides a holistic estimation of the radiocarbon spectrum within a single sample. Ramped PyrOx has been applied to chronology of Antarctic margin sediments, biogeochemistry of riverine POC, soils, and ocean DOC, carbon process records within lacustrine sediments, and environmental chemistry of oil contamination to natural environments.

The goal of this workshop is to bring together researchers involved in the pioneering applications of this technique as well as those interested in applying the technique to new problems. In providing unique insights into 14C age spectra, Ramped PyrOx is opening new lines of research in biogeochemistry as well as improving chronological approaches to important sedimentary sequences.


  • Facilitate discussion between Ramped PyrOx pioneers and geoscientists interested in novel applications of the technique.
  • Discuss how current applications of Ramped PyrOx have increased our understanding of Earth and ocean systems.
  • Target technical improvements and methodological experiments that will improve the approach.
  • Define priority geoscience problems that would benefit from continued development and application of Ramped PyrOx.

Last updated: October 26, 2016