C 14 age dating
It turns out that the origin and concentration of C in fossil fuels is important to the physics community because of its relevance for detection of solar neutrinos.
Apparently one of the new neutrino detectors, the Borexino detector in Italy, works by detecting tiny flashes of visible light produced by neutrinos passing through a huge subterranean vat of "scintillation fluid".
He only discussed radium, and discounted this as a major effect based on low concentrations of radium in coal (and yet my own brief stint of research has turned up many abstracts showing that concentrations of radionuclides vary widely in coal - some of these are pre-1989 so I don't know why Lowe didn't address this more carefully). on the Fundamental Aspects of Modern Physics, 2000, Luderitz, Namibia.
(3) bacteria/fungi hypothesis: Lowe then makes a reasonable case for fungi and bacteria - there are fungi that can degrade lignite (Polyporus versicolor and Poria montiola), as well as autotrophic "thiobacillus-like" bacteria that oxidize pyrites in coal, and he points out that bacteria have been found 3km underground apparently living on granite. Published by World Scientific Publishing Company in 2001.
Many studies verify that coals vary widely in uranium-thorium content, and that this can result in inflated content of certain isotopes relevant to radiometric dating (see abstracts below).
I now understand why fossil fuels are not routinely used in radiometric dating! Gove and his colleagues are currently trying to improve AMS technology to be able to identify certain fossil fuels that have extremely low C levels, and then those oils would be the ones used in the neutrino detectors.
(In comparison, my little hormone vials, here in my above-ground lab, have a background count of about 25 counts per minute for 3.5 milliliters.) So, the physicists want to find fossil fuels that have very little C.
Apparently it correlates best with the content of the natural radioactivity of the rocks surrounding the fossil fuels, particularly the neutron- and alpha-particle-emitting isotopes of the uranium-thorium series. Gove and his colleagues told me they think the evidence so far demonstrates that C by local radioactive decay of the uranium-thorium series.
But I only use a milliliter at a time - the concept of 800 tons really boggles the mind! So, the physics community has gotten interested in finding out whether and why fossil fuels have native radioactivity. So, it looks like in-situ production of new C is the best-supported hypothesis; but research is ongoing, and I look forward to seeing the results of the Old Carbon Project and new research on the deep subterranean bacteria. Recent references from the ongoing "Old Carbon Project": "The measurement of very old Radiocarbon ages by AMS." 2001. References A great general introduction to carbon-14 dating: General information on the many types of neutrino detectors: stanford.edu/gen/meeting/ssi/1997/wojcicki4A very nice in-depth discussion of the three new neutrino detectors and how they work (scroll almost to the end to read about Borexino): diagram of the Borexino (Italy) neutrino detector - notice the enormous shielding to protect it from radiation from the surrounding rock: about the Borexino detector from Princeton University: original paper which raised this "old coal" issue: "Problems associated with the use of coal as a source of C-free background material." D. I picked him to bother with my emails because he had recently written some nice review articles about the AMS technique in the Radiocarbon journal. (Basically there are two ways of measuring C: (1) count the radioactive emissions, or, (2) a newer method, based on separating out the different carbon isotopes by their different masses via accelerator mass spectrometry [AMS] and counting the atoms themselves.) Dr.
Search for c 14 age dating:
Since the halflife of carbon-14 is 5,730 years, any that was present in the coal at the time of formation should have long since decayed to stable daughter products. "Ion Beam Preparation Systems for Atomic Isobar Reduction in Accelerator Mass Spectrometry." 2001.