Correcting for isotopic fractionation, as is done for all radiocarbon dates to allow comparison between results from different parts of the biosphere, gives an apparent age of about 400 years for ocean surface water.

thus introduced takes a long time to percolate through the entire volume of the ocean.

Libby and James Arnold proceeded to test the radiocarbon dating theory by analyzing samples with known ages.

the average or expected time a given atom will survive before undergoing radioactive decay. The calculations involve several steps and include an intermediate value called the "radiocarbon age", which is the age in "radiocarbon years" of the sample: an age quoted in radiocarbon years means that no calibration curve has been used − the calculations for radiocarbon years assume that the atmospheric For consistency with these early papers, it was agreed at the 1962 Radiocarbon Conference in Cambridge (UK) to use the “Libby half-life” of 5568 years.

Radiocarbon ages are still calculated using this half-life, and are known as "Conventional Radiocarbon Age".

It is based on the fact that radiocarbon ( in a sample from a dead plant or animal such as a piece of wood or a fragment of bone provides information that can be used to calculate when the animal or plant died.

The older a sample is, the less (the period of time after which half of a given sample will have decayed) is about 5,730 years, the oldest dates that can be reliably measured by this process date to around 50,000 years ago, although special preparation methods occasionally permit accurate analysis of older samples.

The deepest parts of the ocean mix very slowly with the surface waters, and the mixing is uneven.

The main mechanism that brings deep water to the surface is upwelling, which is more common in regions closer to the equator.

By contrast, methane created from petroleum showed no radiocarbon activity because of its age.

The results were summarized in a paper in Science in 1947, in which the authors commented that their results implied it would be possible to date materials containing carbon of organic origin.

In 1939, Martin Kamen and Samuel Ruben of the Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley began experiments to determine if any of the elements common in organic matter had isotopes with half-lives long enough to be of value in biomedical research.

They synthesized Libby and several collaborators proceeded to experiment with methane collected from sewage works in Baltimore, and after isotopically enriching their samples they were able to demonstrate that they contained .

To verify the accuracy of the method, several artefacts that were datable by other techniques were tested; the results of the testing were in reasonable agreement with the true ages of the objects.