Radiocarbon dating of individual lignin phenols: A new approach for establishing chronology of late quaternary lake sediments

Juzhi Hou, Yongsong Huang, Corynn Brodsky, Marcelo R. Alexandre, Ann P. McNichol, John W. King, Feng Sheng Hu, Ji Shen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The reliability of chronology is a prerequisite for meaningful paleoclimate reconstructions from sedimentary archives. The conventional approach of radiocarbon dating bulk organic carbon in lake sediments is often hampered by the old carbon effect, i.e., the assimilation of ancient dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) derived from carbonate bedrocks or other sources. Therefore, radiocarbon dating is ideally performed on organic compounds derived from land plants that use atmospheric CO2 and rapidly delivered to sediments. We demonstrate that lignin phenols isolated from lake sediments using reversed phase high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) can serve as effective 14C dating materials for establishing chronology during the late Quaternary. We developed a procedure to purify lignin phenols, building upon a published method. By isolating lignin from standard wood reference substances, we show that our method yields pure lignin phenols and consistent ages as the consensus ages and that our procedure does not introduce radiocarbon contamination. We further demonstrate that lignin phenol ages are compatible with varve counted and macrofossil dated sediment horizons in Steel Lake and Fayetteville Green Lake. Applying the new method to lake sediment cores from Lake Qinghai demonstrates that lignin phenol ages in Lake Qinghai are consistently younger than bulk total organic carbon (TOC) ages which are contaminated by old carbon effect. We also show that the age offset between lignin and bulk organic carbon differs at different Lake Qinghai sedimentary horizons, suggesting a variable hard water effect at different times and that a uniform age correction throughout the core is inappropriate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7119-7126
Number of pages8
JournalAnalytical Chemistry
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry


Dive into the research topics of 'Radiocarbon dating of individual lignin phenols: A new approach for establishing chronology of late quaternary lake sediments'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this