All D14C values are normalized to the base value of -25.0 per mille with respect to the standard carbonate (VPDB).D14C is calculated using: Figure 1: Decay curve for C14 showing the activity at one half-life (t/2).The Oxalic acid standard was made from a crop of 1955 sugar beet. The isotopic ratio of HOx I is -19.3 per mille with respect to (wrt) the PBD standard belemnite (Mann, 1983). T designation SRM 4990 C) was made from a crop of 1977 French beet molasses.
d14C represents the per mille depletion in sample carbon 14 prior to isotopic fractionation correction and is measured by: D14C represents the 'normalized' value of d14C.
'Normalized' means that the activity is scaled in relation to fractionation of the sample, or its delta C13 value.
In order to make allowances for background counts and to evaluate the limits of detection, materials which radiocarbon specialists can be fairly sure contain no activity are measured under identical counting conditions as normal samples.
Background samples usually consist of geological samples of infinite age such as coal, lignite, limestone, ancient carbonate, athracite, marble or swamp wood.
Beukens (1994) for instance has stated that this means the limit of the range for his Isotrace laboratory is 60 000 yr which is very similar to the conventional range.
Figure 1: This gif shows the comparison in radioactivity between a sample, or unknown (green area) , a modern standard (dark blue) and a background (small red peaks) derived from beta decay. A radiocarbon measurement, termed a conventional radiocarbon age (or CRA) is obtained using a set of parameters outlined by Stuiver and Polach (1977), in the journal Radiocarbon.
Should the activity of the sample be indistinguishable from the background activity at 1 standard deviation, it is released as background.
Samples whose age falls between modern and background and are given finite ages.
Thus, %Modern becomes a useful term in describing radiocarbon measurements for the past 45 years when, due to the influx of artificial radiocarbon into the atmosphere as a result of nuclear bomb testing the 'age' calculation becomes a 'future' calculation.
If the sample approaches D14C = -1000 per mille within 2 standard deviations, it is considered to be indistinguishable from the laboratory background, ie, not able to be separated with confidence from the laboratory countrates which result from a sample which contains no radionuclide. An example of a minimum age is 50, 000 yr (Gupta and Polach, 1985).
The terms "%Modern", or "pm C" and D14C are shown related in this diagram along with the Radiocarbon age in years BP (Before 1950 AD).