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The ratio is measured using an ordinary mass spectrometer.
The isotopic composition of the sample being measured is expressed as delta13C which represents the parts per thousand difference (per mille) between the sample carbon 13 content and the content of the international PDB standard carbonate (Keith et al., 1964; Aitken, 1990).
Thus, it dilutes the activity of the lake meaning that the radioactivity is depleted in comparison to 14C activity elsewhere.
The lake, in this case, has a different radiocarbon reservoir than that of the majority of the radiocarbon in the biosphere and therefore an accurate radiocarbon age requires that a correction be made to account for it.
Fractionation during the geochemical transfer of carbon in nature produces variation in the equilibrium distribution of the isotopes of carbon (12C, 13C and 14C).
It is common practice in radiocarbon laboratories to correct radiocarbon activities for sample fractionation.
[A Conventional Radiocarbon Age or CRA, does not take into account specific differences between the activity of different carbon reservoirs.
A CRA is derived using an age calculation based upon the decay corrected activity of the absolute radiocarbon standard (1890 AD wood) which is in equilibrium with atmospheric radiocarbon levels (as mentioned previously, 1890 wood is no longer used as the primary radiocarbon standard, instead Oxalic Acid standards I and II were correlated with the activity of the original standard).
A shellfish alive today in a lake within a limestone catchment, for instance, will yield a radiocarbon date which is excessively old.
The reason for this anomaly is that the limestone, which is weathered and dissolved into bicarbonate, has no radioactive carbon.
If, however, all of the sample is converted completely from one form to another (eg.