, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 253-267

Calculation and uncertainty analysis of 210Pb dates for PIRLA project lake sediment cores

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Lead-210 assay and dating are subject to several sources of error, including natural variation, the statistical nature of measuring radioactivity, and estimation of the supported fraction. These measurable errors are considered in calculating confidence intervals for 210Pb dates. Several sources of error, including the effect of blunders or misapplication of the mathematical model, are not included in the quantitative analysis. First-order error analysis and Monte Carlo simulation (of cores from Florida PIRLA lakes) are used as independent estimates of dating uncertainty. CRS-model dates average less than 1% older than Monte Carlo median dates, but the difference increases non-linearly with age to a maximum of 11% at 160 years. First-order errors increase exponentially with calculated CRS-model dates, with the largest 95% confidence interval in the bottommost datable section being 155±90 years, and the smallest being 128±8 years. Monte Carlo intervals also increase exponentially with age, but the largest 95% occurrence interval is 152±44 years. Confidence intervals calculated by first-order methods and ranges of Monte Carlo dates agree fairly well until the 210Pb date is about 130 years old. Older dates are unreliable because of this divergence. Ninety-five per cent confidence intervals range from about 1–2 years at 10 years of age, 10–20 at 100 years, and 8–90 at 150 years old.

This is the third of a series of papers to be published by this journal which is a contribution of the Paleoecological Investigation of Recent Lake Acidification (PIRLA) project. Drs. D.F. Charles and D.R. Whitehead are guest editors for this series.