Abstract

In order to assess the reliability of aquatic moss for radiocarbon dating, 14C analyses were performed on a stratigraphic series of terrestrial plant macrofossils and samples of Drepanocladus crassicostatus from a small, hard-water lake (pH = 8.2) in the “ice-free corridor” of Alberta. All 14C dating was done by using accelerator mass spectrometry. Mazama Ash provided an independent chronological control. The aquatic bryophyte samples consistently produced 14C ages significantly older than the terrestrial macrofossils. The relation between the radiocarbon dates from the macrofossils and the moss was not linear, and age differences ranged from approximately 1400 to 6400 yr. The 14C content of D. crassicostatus growing in the lake at present was less than 85% modern. Despite the apparent inability to take up 14C-deficient carbon by the direct incorporation of bicarbonate, the bryophytes clearly do not provide reliable material for 14C dating. The 14C deficiency of aquatic mosses may be explained by the generation of 14C-deficient CO2 through isotopic exchange, the formation of CO2 from bicarbonate by chemical processes, and metabolic CO2 production. These results demonstrate the potential unreliability of 14C dates from aquatic mosses and raise serious concerns about the deglaciation dates from the ice-free corridor that were obtained from aquatic Drepanocladus.

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