Skip to main content

Seasonal variations in the 14C content of tree rings: influences on radiocarbon calibration and single-year curve construction

  • Liam McDonald (a1), David Chivall (a1), Daniel Miles (a1) and Christopher Bronk Ramsey (a1)

To examine the implications of seasonality for the construction of a single-year calibration curve we obtained separate dates on earlywood and latewood fractions of tree rings originating from England and dendrochronologically dated between AD 1352 and AD 1442. These demonstrated that an average difference of 26±15 yr exists between earlywood and latewood and that this difference can be as high as 33±19 yr during periods of high radiocarbon (14C) production. It is argued that this difference is due to both changes in atmospheric 14C and the incorporation of stored carbohydrates into earlywood. Based on this, it was possible to separate an atmospheric and physiological contribution to this difference. Our modeling indicates that storage can produce a difference of up to 10 years between earlywood and latewood. This suggests that full-year tree rings from deciduous trees may be less appropriate for the construction of a single-year calibration curve and that specific atmospheric events can be more easily detected by measuring only latewood.

Corresponding author
*Corresponding author. Email:
Hide All
Barbaroux, C, Bréda, N. 2002. Contrasting distribution and seasonal dynamics of carbohydrate reserves in stem wood of adult ring-porous sessile oak and diffuse-porous beech trees. Tree Physiology 22(17):12011210.
Baxter, MS, Walton, A. 1971. Fluctuations of atmospheric carbon-14 during the past century. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 321:105127.
Bayliss, A, Marshall, P, Tyers, C, Bronk Ramsey, C, Cook, G, Freeman, SPHT, Griffiths, S. 2017. Informing conservation: towards 14C wiggle-matching of short tree-ring sequences from medieval buildings in England. Radiocarbon 59(3):9851007.
Bronk Ramsey, C, Buck, CE, Manning, SW, Reimer, P, van der Plicht, H. 2006. Developments in radiocarbon calibration for archaeology. Antiquity 80(310):783798.
Bronk Ramsey, C, Ditchfield, P, Humm, M. 2004. Using a gas ion source for radiocarbon AMS and GC-AMS. Radiocarbon 46(1):2532.
Carbone, MS, Czimczik, CE, Keenan, TF, Murakami, PF, Pederson, N, Schaberg, PG, Xu, X, Richardson, AD. 2013. Age, allocation and availability of nonstructural carbon in mature red maple trees. New Phytologist 200:11451155.
Chapin, FS, Schulze, ED, Mooney, HA. 1990. The ecology and economics of storage in plants. Annual Reviews of Ecology and Systematics 21:423447.
Damon, PE, Lerman, JC, Long, A. 1978. Temporal fluctuations of atmospheric 14C: causal factors and implications. Annual Review of Earth Planetary Science 6:457494.
Dee, M, Bronk Ramsey, C. 2000. Refinement of graphite target production at ORAU. Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Section B: Beam Interactions with Materials and Atoms 172:449453.
Dee, MW, Pope, BJS. 2016. Anchoring historical sequences using a new source of astro-chronological tie-points. Proceedings of the Royal Society A 472:20160263.
Dietze, MC, Sala, A, Carbone, MS, Czimczik, CI, Mantooth, JA, Richardson, AD, Vargas, R. 2014. Nonstructural carbon in woody plants. Annual Review of Plant Biology 65(1):667687.
Gaudinski, JB, Torn, MS, Riley, WJ, Swanston, C, Trumbore, SE, Joslin, JD, Majdi, H, Dawson, TE, Hanson, PJ. 2009. Use of stored carbon reserves in growth of temperate tree roots and leaf buds: analyses using radiocarbon measurements and modeling. Global Change Biology 15(4):9921014.
Gessler, A, Treydte, K. 2016. The fate and age of carbon - insights into the storage and remobilization dynamics in trees. New Phytologist 209:13381340.
Green, JW. 1963. Wood cellulose. In: Whistler RL, Wolfrom ML, Bemiller JN, editors. Methods in Carbohydrate Chemistry; Cellulose. New York: Academic Press. p. 921.
Güttler, DF, Adolphi, F, Beer, J, Bleicher, N, Boswijk, G, Christl, M, Hogg, A, Palmer, J, Vockenhuber, C, Wacker, L, et al. 2015. Rapid increase in cosmogenic 14C in AD 775 measured in New Zealand kauri trees indicates short-lived increase in 14C production spanning both hemispheres. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 411:290297.
Güttler, DF, Wacker, L, Kromer, B, Friedrich, M, Synal, H-A. 2013. Evidence of 11-year solar cycles in tree rings from 1010 to 1110 AD – progress on high precision AMS measurements. Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Section B: Beam Interactions with Materials and Atoms 294(January):459463.
Hogg, A, Hua, Q, Blackwell, PG, Niu, M, Buck, CE, Guilderson, TP, Heaton, TJ, Palmer, JG, Reimer, PJ, Reimer, RW, et al. 2013. SHCal13 southern hemisphere calibration, 0-50,000 years cal BP. Radiocarbon 55(4):18891903.
Höll, W. 1985. Seasonal fluctuation of reserve materials in the trunkwood of spruce [Picea Abies (L.) Karst]. Journal of Plant Physiology 117(4):355362.
Keel, SG, Siegwolf, RT, Kötner, C. 2006. Canopy CO2 enrichments permits tracing the fate of recently assimilated carbon in a mature deciduous forest. New Phytologist 172(2):319329.
Kitagawa, H, Mukai, H, Nojiri, Y, Shibata, Y, Kobayashi, T, Nojiri, T. 2004. Seasonal and secular variations of atmospheric 14CO2 over the Western Pacific since 1994. Radiocarbon 46(2):901910.
Kromer, B, Manning, SW, Kuniholm, PI, Newton, MW, Spurk, M, Levin, I. 2001. Regional 14CO2 offsets in the troposphere: magnitude, mechanisms, and consequences. Science 294(5551):25292532.
Levin, I, Kromer, B. 2004. The tropospheric 14CO2 level in mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere (1959–2003). Radiocarbon 46(3):12611272.
Mekhaldi, F, Muscheler, R, Adolphi, F, Aldahan, A, Beer, J, McConnell, JR, Possnert, G, Sigl, M, Svensson, A, Synal, H-A, et al. 2015. Multiradionuclide evidence for the solar origin of the cosmic-ray events of AD 774/5 and 993/4. Nature Communications 6:8611.
Miles, DH, Worthington, MJ. 1999. Tree-ring dates. Vernacular Architect 30(1):98113.
Miyake, F, Masuda, K, Nakamura, T. 2013. Another rapid event in the carbon-14 content of tree rings. Nature Communications 4:1748.
Miyake, F, Nagaya, K, Masuda, K, Nakamura, T. 2012. A signature of cosmic-ray increase in AD 774-775 from tree rings in Japan. Nature 486:240242.
Muhr, J, Messier, C, Delagrange, S, Trumbore, S, Xu, X, Hartmann, H. 2016. How fresh is maple syrup? Sugar maple trees mobilize carbon stored several years previously during early springtime sap-ascent. The New Phytologist 209(4):14101416.
Olsson, IU, Possnert, G. 1992. 14C activity in different sections and chemical fractions of oak tree rings, AD 1938–1981. Radiocarbon 34(3):757767.
Reimer, PJ, Bard, E, Bayliss, A, Beck, JW, Blackwell, PG, Bronk Ramsey, C, Buck, CE, Cheng, H, Edwards, RL, Friedrich, M, et al. 2013. IntCal13 and Marine13 radiocarbon age calibration curves 0–50,000 years cal BP. Radiocarbon 55(4):18691887.
Richardson, AD, Carbone, MS, Huggett, BA, Furze, ME, Czimczik, CI, Walker, JC, Xu, X, Schaberg, PG, Murakami, P. 2015. Distribution and mixing of old and new nonstructural carbon in two temperate trees. New Phytologist 206(2):590597.
Richardson, AD, Carbone, MS, Keenan, TF, Czimczik, CI, Hollinger, DY, Murakami, P, Schaberg, PG, Xu, X. 2013. seasonal dynamics and age of stemwood nonstructural carbohydrates in temperate forest trees. New Phytologist 197(3):850861.
Rinne, KT, Boettger, T, Loader, NJ, Robertson, I, Switsur, VR, Waterhouse, VR. 2005. On the purification of α-cellulose from resinous wood for stable isotope (H, C and O) analysis. Chemical Geology 222(1–2):7582.
Roth, R, Joos, F. 2013. A reconstruction of radiocarbon production and total solar irradiance from the Holocene 14C and CO2 records: implications of data and model uncertainties. Climate of the Past 9(4):18791909.
Sauter, JJ. 1980. Seasonal variation of amino acids and amides in the xylem sap of Salix . Z. Pflanzenphysiol 98:377391.
Schuur, EAG, Trumbore, SE, Druffel, ERM. editors. 2016. Radiocarbon and Climate Change: Mechanisms, Applications, and Laboratory Techniques. Switzerland: Springer.
Southon, JR, Magana, AL. 2010. A comparison of cellulose extraction and ABA pretreatment methods for AMS 14C dating of ancient wood. Radiocarbon 52(2–3):13711379.
Speer, JH. 2010. Fundamentals of Tree-Ring Research. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
Staff, RA, Reyndard, L, Brock, F, Bronk Ramsey, C. 2014. Wood pretreatment protocols and measurement of tree-ring standards at the Oxford radiocarbon accelerator unit (ORAU). Radiocarbon 56(2):709715.
Stuiver, M, Braziunas, TF. 1993. Sun, ocean, climate and atmospheric 14CO2: an evaluation of causal and spectral relationships. The Holocene 3 (4):289305.
Wacker, L, Güttler, D, Hurni, JP, Synal, H-A, Walti, N. 2014. Radiocarbon dating to a single-year by means of rapid atmospheric 14C changes. Radiocarbon 56(2):573579.
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? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed