Marine20—the marine radiocarbon age calibration curve (0–55,000 cal bp)

T.J. Heaton*, Peter Kohler, Martin Butzin, Edouard Bard, Ron Reimer, WIlliam E. N. Austin, Christopher Bronk Ramsey, Pieter M. Grootes, Konrad A. Hughen, Bernd Kromer, Paula Reimer, Jess Adkins, Burke Andrea, Mea S. Cook, jesper olsen, L. C. Skinner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

162 Citations (Scopus)
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The concentration of radiocarbon (14C) differs between ocean and atmosphere. Radiocarbon determinations from samples which obtained their 14C in the marine environment therefore need a marine-specific calibration curve and cannot be calibrated directly against the atmospheric-based IntCal20 curve. This paper presents Marine20, an update to the internationally-agreed marine radiocarbon age calibration curve that provides a non-polar global-average marine record of radiocarbon from 0 – 55 cal kBP and serves as a baseline for regional oceanic variation. Marine20 is intended for calibration of marine radiocarbon samples from non-polar regions; it is not suitable for calibration in polar regions where variability in sea ice extent, ocean upwelling and air-sea gas exchange may have caused larger changes to concentrations of marine radiocarbon. The Marine20 curve is based upon 500 simulations with an ocean/atmosphere/biosphere box-model of the global carbon cycle that has been forced by posterior realisations of our Northern Hemispheric atmospheric IntCal20 14C curve and reconstructed changes in CO2 obtained from ice core data. These forcings enable us to incorporate carbon cycle dynamics and temporal changes in the atmospheric 14C level. The box-model simulations of the global-average marine radiocarbon reservoir age are similar to those of a more complex three-dimensional ocean general circulation model. However, simplicity and speed of the box model allow us to use a Monte Carlo approach to rigorously propagate the uncertainty in both the historic concentration of atmospheric 14C and other key parameters of the carbon cycle through to our final Marine20 calibration curve. This robust propagation of uncertainty is fundamental to providing reliable precision for the radiocarbon age calibration of marine based samples. We make a first step towards deconvolving the contributions of different processes to the total uncertainty; discuss the main differences of Marine20 from the previous age calibration curve Marine13; and identify the limitations of our approach together with key areas for further work. The updated values for ΔR, the regional marine radiocarbon reservoir age corrections required to calibrate against Marine20, can be found at the data base
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 12 Aug 2020


  • Bayesian modeling
  • calibration
  • carbon cycle
  • computer model
  • marine environment


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