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 across a diversity of scientific disciplines. Even though scientists have been conducting radiocarbon analyses for nearly 70 years, new users often struggle with the nuances of interpreting complex data. Students and researchers can also struggle to obtain radiocarbon data, due to the expense associated with sample pretreatment and measurement. The Radiocarbon Collaborative addresses these issues by increasing researcher access to this powerful analytical method. The collaborative provides a dynamic and growing resource to support radiocarbon users of all experience levels across a broad range of disciplines.

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

Kate, viewed through rig in radiocarbon lab



The Radiocarbon Collaborative supported 9 additional projects in FY19 and supported publication of 6 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

Through our work with the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), the Radiocarbon Collaborative is currently finishing work on a continental-scale soil radiocarbon dataset that will inform future conceptual and mechanistic models of the terrestrial carbon cycle. This work supports five graduate students and is a close collaboration across seven institutions, including the Environmental Molecular Sciences Lab at Pacific Northwest National Lab.

We supplemented our educational activities through collaboration with Michigan Tech’s scientific communications team. An instructional article covering the goals and services of the Radiocarbon Collaborative was published as part of Michigan Tech’s Unscripted Research series.

The Radiocarbon Collaborative continues to support the Forest Service Heritage Program’s mission of discovering the human story etched on the landscape through support of archeological work at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie as well as the National Park Service’s Isle Royale National Park and Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

"Thank you all again so much for your patience and help through the first part of the process: I am so excited to see this project get off the ground and look forward to working with you all further!"

- Jan Van Gunst, Nongame Biologist, Nevada Department of Wildlife



The Radiocarbon Collaborative will continue its work with Forest Service scientists and Heritage Program specialists, as well as its collaborations with universities and national labs. A new global-scale project with Forest Service researchers will quantify historical rates of tropical peat accumulation in order to assess the vulnerability of these massive carbon stocks to climate change. Samples processed during the next year will also support a fourth regional assessment of the American pika and its vulnerability to climate change.

Sample handling capacity of the Radiocarbon Collaborative’s Carbon, Water & Soils Lab in Houghton, MI, will double in FY20 as we bring our second graphite reduction rig into operation. This substantial improvement will shorten sample processing turnaround times and allow for more efficient laboratory operation.


2019 Fast Facts

9 new partner projects in FY19

27 soil carbon in temperate ecosystems; 17 peatlands, wetlands, and permafrost; 9 fire; 9 archaeology and Heritage Program; 7 ecology and management; 6 wildlife conservation

640 radiocarbon targets produced

500 radiocarbon unknowns processed