Measurement of radiocarbon isotope 14C helps to understand climate change

During the next three years, Academy of Finland Postdoctoral Researcher Guillaume Genoud will work on a new project called “Radiocarbon Spectroscopy for Climate Sciences”. His main task is to develop an instrument capable of detecting extremely low levels of the radiocarbon isotope 14C.

The amount of the radiocarbon present in carbon dioxide emissions can be used to monitor the emissions due to burning of fossil fuels. Being very old, fossil fuel does not contain any radiocarbon. Monitoring of greenhouse gases is essential to understand the driving force behind climate change. Carbon dioxide is the most significant greenhouse gas, and its natural cycle is highly perturbed by emissions of human origins, which are mostly due to burning of fossil fuels. It is therefore crucial to monitor the emissions of fossil carbon to the atmosphere.

Guillaume GenoudThe natural abundance of this isotope is only 1 part-per-trillion (10-12) compared to the main isotope of carbon, therefore very challenging to detect. Using an extremely sensitive spectroscopic technique, the project aims to develop a novel instrument, which will allow for on-site monitoring of radiocarbon content of the atmosphere. With present methods, it usually takes several days to analyse a sample and know its radiocarbon content. With this instrument the radiocarbon content will be measured in less than one hour, making it possible to observe temporal and local variations of the radiocarbon content of the atmosphere.

Contact: Academy of Finland Postdoctoral Researcher Guillaume Genoud, firstname.lastname@vtt.fi, tel. +358 50 511 0065