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Isotopic Dating Methods – Physical Geology

Rock and Roll: Relative and Radiometric Rock Dating

Radioactive elements decay at a certain constant rate and this is the basis of radiometric dating. But, the decay elements need to be set, much like you would re-set a stop watch for a runner, to ensure an accurate measurement. When minerals get subducted into the Earth and come back as volcanic magmas or ash, this essential re-sets the radiometric clock back to zero and therefore a reliable age date is possible. Sedimentary rocks may have radioactive elements in them, but they have been re-worked from other rocks, so essentially, there radiometric clock has not been re-set back to zero. However, sedimentary rocks can be age dated if a volcanic ash horizon or a diabase sill or dyke can be found within the sequence. For example, if you find a dinosaur bone in a sedimentary sequence and you find an ash layer 10 meter above the bone and another ash layer 20 meters below it, you can determine the age of the two ash layers. You can then infer that the dino must have lived some time between these two age dates.

There are 3 important things to know about the ages in Table 1. The first is that each meteorite was dated by more than one laboratory — Allende by 2 laboratories, Guarena by 2 laboratories, and St Severin by four laboratories. This pretty much eliminates any significant laboratory biases or any major analytical mistakes.

The second thing is that some of the results have been repeated using the same technique, which is another check against analytical errors.

The third is that all three meteorites were dated by more than one method — two methods each for Allende and Guarena, and four methods for St Severin. This is extremely powerful verification of the validity of both the theory and practice of radiometric dating.

In the case of St Severin, for example, we have 4 different natural clocks actually 5, for the Pb-Pb method involves 2 different radioactive uranium isotopeseach running at a different rate and each using elements that respond to chemical and physical conditions in much different ways.

And yet, they all give the same result to within a few percent. Is this a remarkable coincidence? Scientists have concluded that it is not; it is instead a consequence of the fact that radiometric dating actually works and works quite well.

Creationists who wants to dispute the conclusion that primitive meteorites, and therefore the solar system, are about 4. One of the most exciting and important scientific findings in decades was the discovery that a large asteroid, about 10 kilometers diameter, struck the earth at the end of the Cretaceous Period.

The collision threw many tons of debris into the atmosphere and possibly led to the extinction of the dinosaurs and many other life forms. The fallout from this enormous impact, including shocked quartz and high concentrations of the element iridium, has been found in sedimentary rocks at more than locations worldwide at the precise stratigraphic location of the Cretaceous-Tertiary K-T boundary Alvarez and Asaro ; Alvarez We now know that the impact site is located on the Yucatan Peninsula.

Measuring the age of this impact event independently of the stratigraphic evidence is an obvious test for radiometric methods, and a number of scientists in laboratories around the world set to work. In addition to shocked quartz grains and high concentrations of iridium, the K-T impact produced tektites, which are small glass spherules that form from rock that is instantaneously melted by a large impact.

The K-T tektites were ejected into the atmosphere and deposited some distance away.

Because the elements used for dating need to be re-set by volcanism. they have been re-worked from other rocks, so essentially, there radiometric clock has not been re-set back to zero. However, sedimentary rocks can be age dated if a volcanic ash horizon See all questions in Relative Ages of Rocks. A ratio of infinity (that is, all daughter and no dating highly useful if it really works. Radiometric dating is commonly used on igneous rocks (lava), and on some sedimentary minerals. Radiometric dating is largely done on rock that has formed from solidified lava. This calls the whole radiometric dating scheme into serious question. . rocks. However, more recent work has indicated that this process cannot account for the .

Tektites are easily recognizable and form in no other way, so the discovery of a sedimentary bed the Beloc Formation in Haiti that contained tektites and that, from fossil evidence, coincided with the K-T boundary provided an obvious candidate for dating.

Scientists from the US Geological Survey were the first to obtain radiometric ages for the tektites and laboratories in Berkeley, Stanford, Canada, and France soon followed suit. The results from all of the laboratories were remarkably consistent with the measured ages ranging only from Similar tektites were also found in Mexico, and the Berkeley lab found that they were the same age as the Haiti tektites.

The K-T boundary is recorded in numerous sedimentary beds around the world.

Isotopic dating of rocks, or the minerals in them, is based on the fact that we is a radioactive isotope of potassium that is present in very small amounts in all.

Numerous thin beds of volcanic ash occur within these coals just centimeters above the K-T boundary, and some of these ash beds contain minerals that can be dated radiometrically. Since both the ash beds and the tektites occur either at or very near the K-T boundary, as determined by diagnostic fossils, the tektites and the ash beds should be very nearly the same age, and they are Table 2. There are several important things to note about these results. First, the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods were defined by geologists in the early s.

The boundary between these periods the K-T boundary is marked by an abrupt change in fossils found in sedimentary rocks worldwide. Its exact location in the stratigraphic column at any locality has nothing to do with radiometric dating — it is located by careful study of the fossils and the rocks that contain them, and nothing more. Furthermore, the dating was done in 6 different laboratories and the materials were collected from 5 different locations in the Western Hemisphere.

And yet the results are the same within analytical error. In the early afternoon of August 24, 79 CE, Mt Vesuvius erupted violently, sending hot ash flows speeding down its flanks. These flows buried and destroyed Pompeii and other nearby Roman cities.

We know the exact day of this eruption because Pliny the Younger carefully recorded the event. They separated sanidine crystals from a sample of one of the ash flows. Incremental heating experiments on 12 samples of sanidine yielded 46 data points that resulted in an isochron age of 94 years.

The actual age of the flow in was years. Is this just a coincidence? No — it is the result of extremely careful analyses using a technique that works. This is not the only dating study to be done on an historic lava flow.

Many accept radiometric dating methods as proof that the earth is All carbon atoms have 6 protons but can vary in the number of neutrons. 12C dating does not always work because we can test it on rocks of known age. Geologists use radiometric dating to estimate how long ago rocks formed, and to infer the The universe is full of naturally occurring radioactive elements. but because carbon decays relatively quickly, this only works for rocks younger than . The rock record preserves erosional surfaces that record intervals in which not only is the concept of the half-life - For any radioactive substance, there is a specific period of So, geologists prefer to work with igneous rocks.

Two extensive studies done more than 25 years ago involved analyzing the isotopic composition of argon in such flows to determine if the source of the argon was atmospheric, as must be assumed in K-Ar dating Dalrymple26 flows; Krummenacher19 flows. Note, however, that even an error of 0. In this short paper I have briefly described 4 examples of radiometric dating studies where there is both internal and independent evidence that the results have yielded valid ages for significant geologic events.

It is these studies, and the many more like them documented in the scientific literature, that the creationists need to address before they can discredit radiometric dating. Their odds of success are near zero. Even if against all odds they should succeed, it still would not prove that the Earth is young.

Only when young-earth creationists produce convincing quantitative, scientific evidence that the earth is young will they be worth listening to on this important scientific matter. I thank Chris Stassen and 2 anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful comments, which led to important improvements in the manuscript.

Austin SA. Excess argon within mineral concentrates from the new dacite lava dome at Mount St Helens volcano. Dalrymple GB. How old is the earth? A reply to scientific creationism. US Geological Survey Bulletin Gill CH.

A sufficient reason for false Rb-Sr isochrons. Krummenacher D.

Isotopic composition of argon in modern surface volcanic rocks. Science, ; — Rugg S, Austin SA. In: Walsh RE, editor. York D, Dalrymple, GB. Woodmorappe J. Radiometric geochronology reappraised. National Center for Science Education, Inc. Skip to main content. News Alerts Blog Contact Sign up. Follow us Twitter Facebook Youtube. Search form. Radiometric Dating Does Work!

Why is it difficult to date sedimentary rocks using radiometric dating techniques?

The Ages of Meteorites Meteorites, most of which are fragments of asteroids, are very interesting objects to study because they provide important evidence about the age, composition, and history of the early solar system. The K-T Tektites One of the most exciting and important scientific findings in decades was the discovery that a large asteroid, about 10 kilometers diameter, struck the earth at the end of the Cretaceous Period. In many cases, the daughter nuclide itself is radioactive, resulting in a decay chaineventually ending with the formation of a stable nonradioactive daughter nuclide; each step in such a chain is characterized by a distinct half-life.

In these cases, usually the half-life of interest in radiometric dating is the longest one in the chain, which is the rate-limiting factor in the ultimate transformation of the radioactive nuclide into its stable daughter.

Isotopic systems that have been exploited for radiometric dating have half-lives ranging from only about 10 years e. For most radioactive nuclides, the half-life depends solely on nuclear properties and is essentially a constant. It is not affected by external factors such as temperaturepressurechemical environment, or presence of a magnetic or electric field. For all other nuclides, the proportion of the original nuclide to its decay products changes in a predictable way as the original nuclide decays over time.

This predictability allows the relative abundances of related nuclides to be used as a clock to measure the time from the incorporation of the original nuclides into a material to the present. The basic equation of radiometric dating requires that neither the parent nuclide nor the daughter product can enter or leave the material after its formation.

The possible confounding effects of contamination of parent and daughter isotopes have to be considered, as do the effects of any loss or gain of such isotopes since the sample was created.

It is therefore essential to have as much information as possible about the material being dated and to check for possible signs of alteration. Alternatively, if several different minerals can be dated from the same sample and are assumed to be formed by the same event and were in equilibrium with the reservoir when they formed, they should form an isochron.

This can reduce the problem of contamination.

In uranium—lead datingthe concordia diagram is used which also decreases the problem of nuclide loss. Finally, correlation between different isotopic dating methods may be required to confirm the age of a sample.

For example, the age of the Amitsoq gneisses from western Greenland was determined to be 3. Accurate radiometric dating generally requires that the parent has a long enough half-life that it will be present in significant amounts at the time of measurement except as described below under "Dating with short-lived extinct radionuclides"the half-life of the parent is accurately known, and enough of the daughter product is produced to be accurately measured and distinguished from the initial amount of the daughter present in the material.

Radiometric Dating Does Work!

The procedures used to isolate and analyze the parent and daughter nuclides must be precise and accurate. This normally involves isotope-ratio mass spectrometry. The precision of a dating method depends in part on the half-life of the radioactive isotope involved. For instance, carbon has a half-life of 5, years. After an organism has been dead for 60, years, so little carbon is left that accurate dating cannot be established. On the other hand, the concentration of carbon falls off so steeply that the age of relatively young remains can be determined precisely to within a few decades.

If a material that selectively rejects the daughter nuclide is heated, any daughter nuclides that have been accumulated over time will be lost through diffusionsetting the isotopic "clock" to zero.

Radiometric dating of rocks and minerals using naturally occurring, Even things that work well do not work well all of the time and under all circumstances. Radiometric dating, radioactive dating or radioisotope dating is a technique used to date materials such as rocks or All ordinary matter is made up of combinations of chemical elements, each with its own atomic number, indicating the. ?HOW RADIOMETRIC DATING ACTUALLY WORKS The basic idea is this: Every rock and mineral on planet earth contains traces of unstable.

The temperature at which this happens is known as the closure temperature or blocking temperature and is specific to a particular material and isotopic system.

These temperatures are experimentally determined in the lab by artificially resetting sample minerals using a high-temperature furnace. As the mineral cools, the crystal structure begins to form and diffusion of isotopes is less easy. At a certain temperature, the crystal structure has formed sufficiently to prevent diffusion of isotopes.

This temperature is what is known as closure temperature and represents the temperature below which the mineral is a closed system to isotopes. Thus an igneous or metamorphic rock or melt, which is slowly cooling, does not begin to exhibit measurable radioactive decay until it cools below the closure temperature. The age that can be calculated by radiometric dating is thus the time at which the rock or mineral cooled to closure temperature.

This field is known as thermochronology or thermochronometry. The mathematical expression that relates radioactive decay to geologic time is [12] [15]. The equation is most conveniently expressed in terms of the measured quantity N t rather than the constant initial value N o.

The above equation makes use of information on the composition of parent and daughter isotopes at the time the material being tested cooled below its closure temperature.

This is well-established for most isotopic systems. Plotting an isochron is used to solve the age equation graphically and calculate the age of the sample and the original composition. Radiometric dating has been carried out since when it was invented by Ernest Rutherford as a method by which one might determine the age of the Earth. In the century since then the techniques have been greatly improved and expanded. The mass spectrometer was invented in the s and began to be used in radiometric dating in the s.

It operates by generating a beam of ionized atoms from the sample under test. The ions then travel through a magnetic field, which diverts them into different sampling sensors, known as " Faraday cups ", depending on their mass and level of ionization. On impact in the cups, the ions set up a very weak current that can be measured to determine the rate of impacts and the relative concentrations of different atoms in the beams.

Uranium—lead radiometric dating involves using uranium or uranium to date a substance's absolute age. This scheme has been refined to the point that the error margin in dates of rocks can be as low as less than two million years in two-and-a-half billion years.

Uranium—lead dating is often performed on the mineral zircon ZrSiO 4though it can be used on other materials, such as baddeleyiteas well as monazite see: monazite geochronology. Zircon has a very high closure temperature, is resistant to mechanical weathering and is very chemically inert. Zircon also forms multiple crystal layers during metamorphic events, which each may record an isotopic age of the event.

One of its great advantages is that any sample provides two clocks, one based on uranium's decay to lead with a half-life of about million years, and one based on uranium's decay to lead with a half-life of about 4. This can be seen in the concordia diagram, where the samples plot along an errorchron straight line which intersects the concordia curve at the age of the sample.

This involves the alpha decay of Sm to Nd with a half-life of 1. Accuracy levels of within twenty million years in ages of two-and-a-half billion years are achievable. This involves electron capture or positron decay of potassium to argon Potassium has a half-life of 1. This is based on the beta decay of rubidium to strontiumwith a half-life of 50 billion years. This scheme is used to date old igneous and metamorphic rocksand has also been used to date lunar samples.

Closure temperatures are so high that they are not a concern. Rubidium-strontium dating is not as precise as the uranium-lead method, with errors of 30 to 50 million years for a 3-billion-year-old sample. A relatively short-range dating technique is based on the decay of uranium into thorium, a substance with a half-life of about 80, years.

Radioactive Dating

It is accompanied by a sister process, in which uranium decays into protactinium, which has a half-life of 32, years. While uranium is water-soluble, thorium and protactinium are not, and so they are selectively precipitated into ocean-floor sedimentsfrom which their ratios are measured. The scheme has a range of several hundred thousand years. A related method is ionium—thorium datingwhich measures the ratio of ionium thorium to thorium in ocean sediment. Radiocarbon dating is also simply called Carbon dating.

Carbon is a radioactive isotope of carbon, with a half-life of 5, years [25] [26] which is very short compared with the above isotopesand decays into nitrogen. Carbon, though, is continuously created through collisions of neutrons generated by cosmic rays with nitrogen in the upper atmosphere and thus remains at a near-constant level on Earth. The carbon ends up as a trace component in atmospheric carbon dioxide CO 2. A carbon-based life form acquires carbon during its lifetime. Plants acquire it through photosynthesisand animals acquire it from consumption of plants and other animals.

When an organism dies, it ceases to take in new carbon, and the existing isotope decays with a characteristic half-life years. The proportion of carbon left when the remains of the organism are examined provides an indication of the time elapsed since its death. This makes carbon an ideal dating method to date the age of bones or the remains of an organism. The carbon dating limit lies around 58, to 62, years. The rate of creation of carbon appears to be roughly constant, as cross-checks of carbon dating with other dating methods show it gives consistent results.

However, local eruptions of volcanoes or other events that give off large amounts of carbon dioxide can reduce local concentrations of carbon and give inaccurate dates. The releases of carbon dioxide into the biosphere as a consequence of industrialization have also depressed the proportion of carbon by a few percent; conversely, the amount of carbon was increased by above-ground nuclear bomb tests that were conducted into the early s.

Also, an increase in the solar wind or the Earth's magnetic field above the current value would depress the amount of carbon created in the atmosphere. This involves inspection of a polished slice of a material to determine the density of "track" markings left in it by the spontaneous fission of uranium impurities. The uranium content of the sample has to be known, but that can be determined by placing a plastic film over the polished slice of the material, and bombarding it with slow neutrons.

This causes induced fission of U, as opposed to the spontaneous fission of U. The fission tracks produced by this process are recorded in the plastic film.

Does radiometric dating work for all rocks

The uranium content of the material can then be calculated from the number of tracks and the neutron flux. This scheme has application over a wide range of geologic dates. For dates up to a few million years micastektites glass fragments from volcanic eruptionsand meteorites are best used. Older materials can be dated using zirconapatitetitaniteepidote and garnet which have a variable amount of uranium content. The technique has potential applications for detailing the thermal history of a deposit.

The residence time of 36 Cl in the atmosphere is about 1 week. Thus, as an event marker of s water in soil and ground water, 36 Cl is also useful for dating waters less than 50 years before the present.

Luminescence dating methods are not radiometric dating methods in that they do not rely on abundances of isotopes to calculate age.

Instead, they are a consequence of background radiation on certain minerals. Over time, ionizing radiation is absorbed by mineral grains in sediments and archaeological materials such as quartz and potassium feldspar. The radiation causes charge to remain within the grains in structurally unstable "electron traps". Exposure to sunlight or heat releases these charges, effectively "bleaching" the sample and resetting the clock to zero.

The trapped charge accumulates over time at a rate determined by the amount of background radiation at the location where the sample was buried. Stimulating these mineral grains using either light optically stimulated luminescence or infrared stimulated luminescence dating or heat thermoluminescence dating causes a luminescence signal to be emitted as the stored unstable electron energy is released, the intensity of which varies depending on the amount of radiation absorbed during burial and specific properties of the mineral.

These methods can be used to date the age of a sediment layer, as layers deposited on top would prevent the grains from being "bleached" and reset by sunlight. Pottery shards can be dated to the last time they experienced significant heat, generally when they were fired in a kiln.

Absolute radiometric dating requires a measurable fraction of parent nucleus to remain in the sample rock. For rocks dating back to the beginning of the solar system, this requires extremely long-lived parent isotopes, making measurement of such rocks' exact ages imprecise.

To be able to distinguish the relative ages of rocks from such old material, and to get a better time resolution than that available from long-lived isotopes, short-lived isotopes that are no longer present in the rock can be used.

At the beginning of the solar system, there were several relatively short-lived radionuclides like 26 Al, 60 Fe, 53 Mn, and I present within the solar nebula. These radionuclides—possibly produced by the explosion of a supernova—are extinct today, but their decay products can be detected in very old material, such as that which constitutes meteorites. By measuring the decay products of extinct radionuclides with a mass spectrometer and using isochronplots, it is possible to determine relative ages of different events in the early history of the solar system.

Dating methods based on extinct radionuclides can also be calibrated with the U-Pb method to give absolute ages.

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