Skip to main content

Evaluating the Radiocarbon Reservoir Effect in Lake Kutubu, Papua New Guinea

  • Larissa Schneider (a1) (a2), Colin F Pain (a3), Simon Haberle (a1) (a2), Russell Blong (a4), Brent V Alloway (a5) (a6), Stewart J Fallon (a7), Geoff Hope (a1), Atun Zawadzki (a8) and Henk Heijnis (a8)...

We examined the radiocarbon (14C) reservoir effect in Lake Kutubu using tephrochronology and terrestrial plant material to deliver a precise age-depth profile and sedimentation rates for this lake. Based on the presence of two tephra horizons (Tibito and Olgaboli), we found a reservoir age offset in sediments of between 1490 and 2280 14C yr using the sediment ages derived from the lead-210 (210Pb) dating method. The live submerged biological samples collected exhibited a higher reservoir age offset than the sediment. This is most likely a result of delayed transport of “bomb” 14C from the atmosphere to aquatic and sedimentary system. The 14C reservoir effect increased with distance from the lake inlet and also decreased with depth. Dissolution of 14C-depleted carbon from surrounding limestone and direct in-wash of old soil or vegetation remnants from the catchment are the most likely causes of the 14C reservoir effect. Based on limestone areas mapped in Papua New Guinea, we indicate lakes which may be subject to a significant 14C reservoir effect. The results of this study demonstrate the magnitude of the 14C reservoir effect in lakes and provide insights to the correct interpretation of past environmental and archaeological events in PNG.

Corresponding author
*Corresponding author. Email:
Hide All
Appleby, PG, Oldfield, F. 1978. The calculation of lead-210 dates assuming a constant rate of supply of unsupported 210Pb to the sediment. Catena 5:18.
Bain, JHC, Mackenzie DE, Ryburn. 1975. Geology of the Kubor anticline, Central Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Department of Minerals and Energy. Bureau of Mineral Resources, Geology and Geophysics. Bulletin. 155, Canberra ACT.
Bayliss-Smith, T, Golson, J, Hughes, P. 2017. Phase 6: Impact of the sweet potato on swamp landuse, pig rearing and exchange relations. In: Golson J, Denham T, Swadling P, Muke J, editors. Ten Thousand Years of Cultivation at Kuk Swamp in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea (Terra Australis 46). Canberra: ANU Press. p 297323.
Bayly, IAE, Peterson, J, St John, VP. 1970. Notes on Lake Kutubu, Southern Highlands of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Australian Society for Limnology Bulletin 3:4047.
Berg, MSV den, Scheffer, M, Nes, EV, Coops, H. 1999. Dynamics and stability of Chara sp. and Potamogeton pectinatus in a shallow lake changing in eutrophication level. Hydrobiologia 408–409:335342.
Bengtsson, Törneman. 2004. Dissolved organic carbon dynamics in the peat–streamwater interface. Biogeochemistry 70:93116.
Bjork, S, Wohlfarth, B. 2001. 14C chronostratigraphic techniques in paleolimnology. In: Last WM, Smol JP, editors. Tracking Environmental Change Using Lake Sediments. Basin Analysis, Coring and Chronological Techniques, Developments in Palaeoenvironmental Research. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers. p 205245.
Blaauw, M. 2010. Methods and code for ‘classical’ age-modelling of radiocarbon sequences. Quaternary Geochronology 5:512518.
Blaauw, M, Christen, JA. 2011. Flexible paleoclimate age-depth models using an autoregressive gamma process. Bayesian Analysis 6:457474.
Blaauw, M, van Geel, B, Kristen, I, Plessen, B, Lyaruu, A, Engstrom, DR, van der Plicht, J, Verschuren, D. 2011. High-resolution 14C dating of a 25,000-year lake-sediment record from equatorial East Africa. Quaternary Science Reviews 30:30433059.
Blong, R, Kemp, J, Chen, K. 2016. Dating the last major eruption of Long Island, Papua New Guinea: the evidence from Dampier’s 1700 voyage on the Roebuck. Terrae Incognitae 48:139159.
Blong, RJ. 1982. The Time of Darkness: Local Legends and Volcanic Reality in Papua New Guinea. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
Blong, RJ, Pain, CF, McKee, CO. 1982. Long Island, Papua New Guinea: aspects of landforms and tephrostratigraphy. Records of the Australian Museum 34:419426.
Blong, RJ, Wagner, T, Golson, J. 2017a. Volcanic ash Tephras at Kuk. In: Golson J, Denham T, Hughes PD, Swadling P, Muke J, editors. Ten Thousand Years of Cultivation at Kuk Swamp in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea (Terra Australis 46). Canberra: ANU Press. p 117131.
Blong, RJ, Fallon, SJ, Wood, R, McKee, CO, Chen, K, Magill, C, Barter, P. 2017b. Significance and timing of the mid-17th century eruption of Long Island, Papua New Guinea. The Holocene. doi: 10.1177/0959683617735589.
Broecker, W, Walton, A. 1959. The geochemistry of C14 in fresh-water systems. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 16:1538.
Brown, CM, Robinson, GP. 1982. Kutubu: Papua New Guinea. (No. SB/54-12), 1:250 000 Geological Series–Explanatory Notes. Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea: Geological Survey of Papua New Guinea, Department of Minerals and Energy.
Chambers, MR. 1987. The freshwater lakes of Papua New Guinea: an inventory and limnological review. Journal of Tropical Ecology 3:123.
Coulter, SE, Denham, TP, Turney, CSM, Hall, VA. 2009. The geochemical characterization and correlation of Late Holocene tephra layers at Ambra Crater and Kuk Swamp, Papua New Guinea. Geological Journal 44:568592.
D’Addario, GW, Dow, DB, Swoboda, R. 1975. Geology of Papua New Guinea, 1:2 500 000. Canberra: Bureau of Mineral Resources.
D’cruz, R. 2008. Lake Kutubu Management Plan. Report prepared for WWF (PNG). WWF Kikori River Programme, Boroko, Papua New Guinea.
Deevey, ES. 1954. The natural C-14 contents of materials from hard-water lakes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 40:285.
Deevey, ES, Stuiver, M. 1964. Distribution of natural isotopes of carbon in Linsley Pond and other New England lakes. Limnological Oceanography 9:111.
Dow, DB. 1977. A Geological Synthesis of Papua New Guinea, Bureau of Mineral Resources, Geology and Geophysics no: 201 0084-7089. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service. p 41.
Dugmore, AJ, Cook, GT, Shore, JS, Newton, AJ, Edwards, KJ, Larsen, G. 2006. Radiocarbon dating tephra layers in Britain and Iceland. Radiocarbon 37(2):379388.
Fallon, SJ, Fifield, LK, Chappell, JM. 2010. The next chapter in radiocarbon dating at the Australian National University: Status report on the single stage AMS. Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research B 268:898901. doi: 10.1016/j.nimb.2009.10.059.
Flenley, J. 1967. The Present and Former Vegetation of the Wabag Region of New Guinea. Canberra: Australian National University.
Fletcher, W, Zielhofer, C, Mischke, S, Bryant, C, Xu, X, Fink, D. 2017. AMS radiocarbon dating of pollen concentrates in a karstic lake system. Quaternary Geochronology. doi: 10.1016/j.quageo.2017.02.006.
Ford, D, Williams, PD. 2007. Karst Hydrogeology and Geomorphology. Hoboken (NJ): Wiley.
Garrett-Jones, SE. 1979. Evidence for Changes in Holocene Vegetation and Lake Sedimentation in the Markham Valley, Papua New Guinea [PhD thesis]. Canberra: Australian National University. p 400.
Gillieson, D, Mountain, M-J. 1983. Environmental history of Nombe Rockshelter, Papua New Guinea Highlands. Archaeology Oceanography 18:5362.
Grimm, EC, Maher, LJ Jr, Nelson, DM. 2009. The magnitude of error in conventional bulk-sediment radiocarbon dates from central North America. Quaternary Research 72:301308. doi: 10.1016/j.yqres.2009.05.006.
Haberle, SG. 1998. Dating the evidence for agricultural change in the highlands of New Guinea: The last 2000 years. Australian Archaeology 113.
Haberle, SG. 1998. Late Quaternary vegetation change in the Tari Basin, Papua New Guinea. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 37:124.
Harrison, J, Heijnis, H, Caprarelli, G. 2003. Historical pollution variability from abandoned mine sites, Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, New South Wales, Australia. Environ. Geol. 43:680687.
Hall, BL, Henderson, GM. 2001. Use of uranium–thorium dating to determine past 14C reservoir effects in lakes: examples from Antarctica. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 193:565577. doi: 10.1016/S0012-821X(01)00524-6.
Harle, KJ, Kershaw, AP, Heijnis, H. 1999. The contributions of uranium/thorium and marine palynology to the dating of the Lake Wangoom pollen record, western plains of Victoria, Australia. Quaternary International 57:2534.
Hendy, CH, Hall, BL. 2006. The radiocarbon reservoir effect in proglacial lakes: Examples from Antarctica. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 241:413421.
Hogg, AG, Hua, Q, Blackwell, PG, Niu, M, Buck, CE, Guilderson, TP, Heaton, TJ, Palmer, JG, Reimer, PJ, Reimer, RW, Turney, CSM, Zimmerman, SRH. 2013. SHCal13 Southern Hemisphere calibration, 0–50,000 years cal BP. Radiocarbon 55(4):18891903.
Karlin, RE, Abella, SEB. 1996. A history of Pacific Northwest earthquakes recorded in Holocene sediments from Lake Washington. Journal of Geophysical Research 101:61376150. doi: 10.1029/95JB01626.
Kilian, MR, van Gee, B, van der Plicht, J. 2000. 14C AMS wiggle matching of raised bog deposits and models of peat accumulation. Quaternary Science Reviews 19:10111033.
Last, WM, Smol, JP. editors. 2002. Tracking Environmental Change Using Lake Sediments: Volume 1: Basin Analysis, Coring, and Chronological Techniques. Dordrecht; Boston: Springer.
McCormac, FG, Hogg, AG, Blackwell, PG, Buck, CE, Higham, TFG, Reimer, PJ. 2004. ShCal04 Southern Hemisphere calibration, 0–11.0 cal kyr BP. Radiocarbon 46(3):10871092.
McKee, CO, Baillie, MG, Reimer, PJ. 2015. A revised age of AD 667–699 for the latest major eruption at Rabaul. Bulletin of Volcanology 77:65.
Mischke, S, Weynell, M, Zhang, C, Wiechert, U. 2013. Spatial variability of 14C reservoir effects in Tibetan Plateau lakes. Quaternary International 313-314:147155. doi: 10.1016/j.quaint.2013.01.030.
Ohle, W. 1952. Die hypolimnische Kohlendioxyd-Akkumulation als produktionsbiologischer Indikator. Archiv für Hydrobiologie 46:153285.
Oldfield, F. 1977. Lakes and their drainage basins as units of sediment-based ecological study. Progress in Physical Geography 1:460504.
Oldfield, F, Appleby, PG, Thompson, R. 1980. Palaeoecological studies of Lakes in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea: I. The Chronology of Sedimentation. Journal of Ecology 68:457477. doi: 10.2307/2259416.
Olsson, IU. 1986. Radiometric dating. In: Berglund BE, editor. Handbook of Holocene Palaeoecology and Palaeohydrology. Chichester (UK): Wiley. p 273312.
Osborne, PL. 2012. Lakes, energy flow and biogeochemical cycling. In: Tropical Ecosystems and Ecological Concepts. Cambridge University Press. p 142203.
Osborne, PL, Totome, RG. 1992. Influences of oligomixis on the water and sediment chemistry of Lake Kutubu, Papua New Guinea. Archiv für Hydrobiologie 124:427449.
Petr, T. 1985. Limnology of the Purari Basin. Part 1. The catchment above the delta. In: Junk W, editor. The Purari–Tropical Environment of a High Rainfall River Basin. The Hague, Netherlands. p 141177.
R Development Core Team. 2017. R: A Language and Environment for Statistical Computing. Vienna: R Foundation for Statistical Computing. ISBN 3-900051-07-0. URL
Reimer, PJ, Bard, E, Bayliss, A, Beck, JW, Blackwell, PG, Ramsey, CB, Buck, CE, Cheng, H, Edwards, RL, Friedrich, M, Grootes, PM, Guilderson, TP, Haflidason, H, Hajdas, I, Hatté, C, Heaton, TJ, Hoffmann, DL, Hogg, AG, Hughen, KA, Kaiser, KF, Kromer, B, Manning, SW, Niu, M, Reimer, RW, Richards, DA, Scott, EM, Southon, JR, Staff, RA, Turney, CSM, van der Plicht, J. 2013. IntCal13 and Marine13 radiocarbon age calibration curves 0–50,000 years cal BP. Radiocarbon 55(4):18691887.
Santos, GM, Southon, JR, Griffin, S, Beaupre, SR, Druffel, ERM. 2007. Ultra small-mass AMS 14C sample preparation and analyses at KCCAMS/UCI facility. Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research B 259:293302. doi: 10.1016/j.nimb.2007.01.172.
Schneider, L, Alloway, BV, Blong, RJ, Hope, GS, Fallon, SJ, Pain, CF, Maher, WA, Haberle, SG. 2017. Stratigraphy, age and correlation of two widespread Late Holocene tephras preserved within Lake Kutubu, Southern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea. Journal of Quaternary Science 32:782794. doi: 10.1002/jqs.2959.
Schneider, L, Haberle, SG, Maher, WA, Krikowa, F, Zawadzki, A, Heijnis, H. 2016. History of human impact on Lake Kutubu, Papua New Guinea: The geochemical signatures of oil and gas mining activities in sediments. Chemosphere 148:369379. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2015.12.086.
Snyder, JA, Miller, GH, Werner, A, Jull, AJT, Stafford, TW. 1994. AMS-radiocarbon dating of organic-poor lake sediment, an example from Linnévatnet, Spitsbergen, Svalbard. The Holocene 4:413421.
Soulet, G. 2015. Methods and codes for reservoir–atmosphere 14C age offset calculations. Quaternary Geochronology 29:97103. doi: 10.1016/j.quageo.2015.05.023.
Srdoč, D. 1986. The response of hydrological systems to the variations of the 14C activity of the atmosphere. Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research B 17:545549.
Sutton, A, Mountain, M-J, Aplin, K, Bulmer, S, Denham, T. 2009. Archaeozoological records for the highlands of New Guinea: a review of current evidence. Australian Archaeology 69:4158. doi: 10.1080/03122417.2009.11681900.
Thorley, A. 1981. Pollen analytical evidence relating to the vegetation history of the chalk. Journal of Biogeography 8:93106. doi: 10.2307/2844552.
Walker, D. 1972. Vegetation of the Lake Ipea region, New Guinea highlands: II. Kayamanda Swamp. Journal of Ecology 60:479504. doi: 10.2307/2258358.
Walker, D, Flenley, JR. 1979. Late Quaternary vegetational History of the Enga province of upland Papua New Guinea. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B. Biol. Sci 286:265344.
Wang, Y, Yang, H. 2004. Middle Permian palaeobiogeography study in East Kunlun, Anyêmaqên and Bayan Har. Science in China Series D: Earth Sciences 47:11201126.
Williams, PW, McDougall, I, Powell, JM. 1972. Aspects of the quaternary geology of the Tari‐Koroba area, Papua. J. Geol. Soc. Aust 18:333347. doi: 10.1080/00167617208728772.
Wohlfarth, B, Skog, G, Possnert, G, Holmquist, B. 1998. Pitfalls in the AMS radiocarbon-dating of terrestrial macrofossils. Journal of Quaternary Science 13:137145.
WWF. 2008. Ecological and Geochemical Investigations for Lake Kutubu and Surrounding Wetlands. Report No. Rev 3, 22 August 2008.
Yang, S, Yim, WW-S, Huang, G. 2008. Geochemical composition of inner shelf Quaternary sediments in the northern South China Sea with implications for provenance discrimination and paleoenvironmental reconstruction. Global and Planetary Change 60:207221. doi: 10.1016/j.gloplacha.2007.02.005.
Yu, SY, Shen, J, Coleman, SM. 2007. Modeling the radiocarbon reservoir effect in lacustrine systems. Radiocarbon 49(3):12411254.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0033-8222
  • EISSN: 1945-5755
  • URL: /core/journals/radiocarbon
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Schneider et al. supplementary material
Schneider et al. supplementary material 1

 Word (21 KB)
21 KB