Bomb-produced radiocarbon in the western tropical Pacific Ocean: Guam coral reveals operation-specific signals from the Pacific Proving Grounds

Allen H. Andrews, Ryuji Asami, Yasufumi Iryu, Donald R. Kobayashi, Frank Camacho

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


High-resolution radiocarbon (14C) analyses on a coral core extracted from Guam, a western tropical Pacific island, revealed a series of early bomb-produced 14C spikes. The typical marine bomb 14C signal—phase lagged and attenuated relative to atmospheric records—is present in the coral and is consistent with other regional coral records. However, 14C levels well above what can be attributed to air-sea diffusion alone punctuate this pattern. This anomaly was observed in other Indo-Pacific coral records, but the Guam record is unmatched in magnitude and temporal resolution. The Guam coral Δ14C record provided three spikes in 1954–1955, 1956–1957, and 1958–1959 that are superimposed on a normal 14C record. Relative to mean prebomb levels, the first peak rises an incredible ∼700‰ and remained elevated for ∼1.2 years. A follow up assay with finer resolution increased the peak by ∼300‰. Subsequent spikes were less intense with a rise of ∼35 and ∼70‰. Each can be linked to thermonuclear testing in the Pacific Proving Grounds at Bikini and Enewetak atolls in Operations Castle (1954), Redwing (1956), and Hardtack I (1958). These 14C signals can be explained by vaporization of coral reef material in the nuclear fireball, coupled with neutron activation of atmospheric nitrogen (14C production), and subsequent absorption of 14CO2 to form particulate carbonates of close-in fallout. The lag time in reaching Guam and other coral records abroad was tied to ocean surface currents and modeling provided validation of 14C arrival observations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6351-6366
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Aug 1


  • C
  • bomb radiocarbon dating
  • current modeling
  • environmental radioactivity
  • fallout
  • thermonuclear bomb

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Forestry
  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Palaeontology

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