, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 115-128

Low-background gamma counting: applications for210Pb dating of sediments

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Sediment cores from three lakes were dated with210Pb using a constant rate of supply (CRS) model. We used low-background gamma counting to measure naturally occurring levels of210Pb,226Ra, and137Cs in sediment samples because sample preparation is simple and non-destructive,226Ra activity provides a direct measure of supported210Pb activity for each sample analyzed, and137Cs activity may provide an independent age marker for the 1962–1963 peak in atmospheric fallout of this radionuclide. In one core supported210Pb activity was estimated equally well from226Ra activity of each sampling interval or from the mean total210Pb activity of constant activity samples at depth. Supported210Pb activity was constant with depth in this core. In a short freeze core, determining226Ra activity of every sample proved advantageous in estimating supported210Pb activity because supported210Pb activity could be estimated from210Pb measurements only at the deepest sampling interval. Supported210Pb activity estimated from226Ra activity also yielded more precise estimates of highly variable sedimentation rates. In the third core226Ra activity exceeded210Pb activity at the top of the core and varied 20 fold with depth. This high input of226Ra in disequilibrium with210Pb is attributed to recent erosion of radium-bearing materials in the drainage basin. These data invalidate the assumption that supported210Pb activity is constant in sediment cores and can be estimated from the mean total210Pb activity at depths where210Pb activity is constant. We recommend using gamma counting or another independent assay of226Ra to validate the assumption of constant supported210Pb activity in sediment cores if there is reason to expect that226Ra activity varies with depth.

This is the fourth of a series of papers to be published by this journal following the 20 th anniversary of the first application of210Pb dating of lake sediments. Dr. P.G. Appleby is guest editing this series.