Radiocarbon Collaborative

The Radiocarbon Collaborative is dedicated to advancing climate and carbon cycle science by making radiocarbon analysis accessible, decipherable, and collaborative.


Radiocarbon abundance measurements have been used to gain unique insight into a wide variety of scientific questions, and have been utilized by a diversity of scientific disciplines. Though radiocarbon analysis has been successfully utilized by the scientific community for nearly seventy years, novices attempting interpretation of radiocarbon data still struggle with the peculiarities and nuances of radiocarbon nomenclature, as well as its spatial and temporal variation. Students and researchers may additionally struggle to obtain radiocarbon data, due to the expense associated with sample pretreatment and measurement. The Radiocarbon Collaborative is a partnership among scientists at the USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, the University of California, Irvine, and numerous other federal and private institutions. This collaborative was established with the goal of creating a dynamic and growing resource to support radiocarbon users of all experience levels from a broad range of disciplines.

The Radiocarbon Collaborative is jointly supported by the US Forest Service, the W.M. Keck Carbon Cycle Accelerator Mass Spectrometer Facility at University of California, Irvine, and Michigan Technological University.

Map of United States showing where Radiocarbon research has been supported



The Radiocarbon Collaborative supported 11 additional projects in FY18 and supported publication of 10 new peer-reviewed manuscripts ranging in focus from the terrestrial carbon cycle to research in the era of big data.

photo of container of liquid nitrogen

Our efforts in collaboration with the USGS Powell Center and the Max Planck Institute have resulted in a harmonized soil biogeochemistry and radiocarbon database with over 4,000 radiocarbon data points in our initial dataset. Our database will go live in January 2019, following its debut in its own special session at the Soil Science Society of America Annual Meeting.

In collaboration with the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), the Radiocarbon Collaborative has completed characterization of soils from 35 of the 47 NEON terrestrial sites, supporting a total of five master’s and doctoral students. 

We debuted our website and outreach materials at the 14th International Conference on Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, which were met with great enthusiasm. We are continuing to develop information and tools to assist students and researchers in utilizing radiocarbon analyses in their work by adding guidance on sample treatment, analysis options, and standard laboratory procedures. We created a new cadre of Radiocarbon Collaboration Mentors, which currently includes 10 scientists from 8 institutions who have volunteered to mentor other scientists new to the radiocarbon field.

"Thanks again for offering this service. Without it, it would be almost impossible for me to do any research."

- Zachary Taylor, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Berry College



The Radiocarbon Collaborative will continue its outreach to Forest Service Research and Development and Heritage program scientists, as well as its collaborations with universities and national labs.

The expansion of the graphite lab to enable radiocarbon analysis of methane is expected in 2019. Very few radiocarbon labs are equipped with the highly specialized equipment necessary to enable graphitization of methane samples. These analyses will yield unique insight into peatland and permafrost responses to warming and drying.


2018 Fast Facts

620 radiocarbon targets produced

11 new partner projects

450 radiocarbon unknowns produced

66 Radiocarbon Collaborative supported ecosystem projects since 2011