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C (carbon-14) in the upper atmosphere as a result of bombardment by neutrons in so-called cosmic rays: high-energy particles bombarding the Earth's atmosphere from outer space. On formation, the newly-born carbon atom quickly oxidizes to form a molecule of carbon dioxide (COC being produced annually is more or less constant, whereas the quantity being destroyed is proportional to the quantity that exists, it can be shown that the quantity in the atmosphere at any given time will be more or less constant: the processes of production and decay of C, which need not concern us in this article.The terrestrial carbon cycle is fairly simple: plants get their carbon from the atmosphere via the process of photosynthesis; herbivores get their carbon from plants, and carnivores from the herbivores.

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Because we are measuring the abundance of two isotopes of carbon, and because isotopes of the same element will be chemically identical, no ordinary process can preferentially remove C is going to be small enough to begin with, being only 0.0000000001% of atmospheric carbon, and then as the decay process progresses it's going to get smaller and smaller.Two effects also interfere with the dating of very recent samples.The testing of thermonuclear weapons produced an increase in atmospheric C they contain is infinitesimal.After the death of the organism, processes of decay will return its carbon to the atmosphere, unless it is sequestered — for example in the form of coal.This means that when an organism is alive, its ratio of C dating, or C-C dating.

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