Application of new technology liquid scintillation spectrometry to radiocarbon dating of tephra deposits, New Zealand

Two major technological advances in the radiocarbon dating method have recently enhanced its potential application to tephra studies: the advent of accelerator mass spectrometry and the development of new technology liquid scintillation (LS) spectrometry. The new technology LS spectrometer represents a significant refinement of the conventional dating method based on liquid scintillation counting of benzene. It improves upon conventional LS counting by allowing spectral analysis, and by providing a high degree of counting stability and efficiency in an ultra low-level background radiation environment. These attributes enable radiocarbon dating with greater accuracy and statistical precision, and also allow the determination of both smaller and older samples than previously possible by conventional radiometric methods. The new Wallac Oy ‘Quantulus’ LS spectrometer has been in operation at the University of Waikato Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory since 1988. The instrument achieves ultra-low background levels by both passive and active forms of shielding. The shielding comprises a massive asymmetric passive lead shield surrounding an aticoincident liquid scintillation guard. In addition, the Quantulus contains dual multichannel analyzers which allow spectral analysis and ‘windowless’ data acquisition. The Quantulus LS spectrometers at the Waikato laboratory have been used to date a variety of carbonaceous materials associated with tephra deposits in New Zealand, ranging in age from ca. 0.1–55 ka. In particular, we have tested the capability of the Quantulus for determining ages of samples that are typically more difficult or impossible to date by conventional methods: (1) very young samples (e.g. Tarawera Tephra, erupted ca. 100 years ago); (2) older samples (e.g. Mangaone Tephra, erupted ca. 30 ka); and (3) samples containing only sparse carbon (e.g. lake sediments associated with tephra layers aged ca. 20 ka or less). The Quantulus LS spectrometer is both more accurate and precise (statistical counting errors are reduced) than conventional instruments, is capable of extending the limits of detection at both ends of the age scale, and has a smaller sample handling ability. Analyses can be obtained at comparatively low cost. Such advances are potentially beneficial to tephrochronology and volcanology and a wide range of applications in Quaternary research.
Journal Article
Type of thesis
Lowe, D.J. & Hogg, A.G. (1992). Application of new technology liquid scintillation spectrometry to radiocarbon dating of tephra deposits, New Zealand. Quaternary International, 13-14, 135-142.
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