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So, it looks like in-situ production of new C is the best-supported hypothesis; but research is ongoing, and I look forward to seeing the results of the Old Carbon Project and new research on the deep subterranean bacteria. Recent references from the ongoing "Old Carbon Project": "The measurement of very old Radiocarbon ages by AMS." 2001.
References A great general introduction to carbon-14 dating: General information on the many types of neutrino detectors: stanford.edu/gen/meeting/ssi/1997/wojcicki4A very nice in-depth discussion of the three new neutrino detectors and how they work (scroll almost to the end to read about Borexino): diagram of the Borexino (Italy) neutrino detector - notice the enormous shielding to protect it from radiation from the surrounding rock: about the Borexino detector from Princeton University: original paper which raised this "old coal" issue: "Problems associated with the use of coal as a source of C-free background material." D.
A new species of bacteria found in deep, hot fossil fuels: "Isolation and characterization of Thermococcus sibiricus sp. from a Western Siberia high-temperature oil reservoir." 2001.
These results demonstrate that hydrogen-based methanogenic communities do occur in Earth's subsurface, providing an analogue for possible subsurface microbial ecosystems on other planets.
I use scintillant every day in my own work to detect H-tagged hormones.
But I only use a milliliter at a time - the concept of 800 tons really boggles the mind! So, the physics community has gotten interested in finding out whether and why fossil fuels have native radioactivity.
More than 90% of the 16S ribosomal DNA sequences recovered from hydrothermal waters circulating through deeply buried igneous rocks in Idaho are related to hydrogen-using methanogenic microorganisms.
It turns out that the origin and concentration of C in fossil fuels is important to the physics community because of its relevance for detection of solar neutrinos.
Apparently one of the new neutrino detectors, the Borexino detector in Italy, works by detecting tiny flashes of visible light produced by neutrinos passing through a huge subterranean vat of "scintillation fluid".
ABSTRACT: The search for extraterrestrial life may be facilitated if ecosystems can be found on Earth that exist under conditions analogous to those present on other planets or moons.
Example of high uranium content in certain coals: "Anomalous trace element abundances in Tertiary coal ash from East Garo Hills, Meghalaya, India." 1996.
Gove wrote back the very next day, as did one of his colleagues.