Radiometric dating. Geologists use radiometric dating to estimate how long ago rocks formed, and to infer the ages of fossils contained within those rocks. Isotopic dating of rocks, or the minerals in them, is based on the fact that we know When radiometric techniques are applied to metamorphic rocks, the results.
Key concepts Absolute Dating The problem: By the mid 19th century it was obvious that Earth was much older than years, but how old? This problem attracted the attention radiometric dating of metamorphic rocks capable scholars but ultimately depended on serendipitous discoveries. Early attempts: Initially, three lines of evidence were pursued: Hutton attempted to estimate age based on the application of observed rates of sedimentation to the known thickness of the sedimentary rock column, achieving an approximation rradiometric 36 million years.
The big problem is with the last assumption. The rock record preserves erosional surfaces that record intervals in which not only is deposition of sediment not occurring, but sediment that was already there who knows how much was removed.
Associated terminology: Conformable strata: Strata which were deposited on top of one another without interruption. An erosional surface that marks an interval of non-deposition or removal of deposits - a break in the stratigraphic sequence. Group of conformable layers lying between unconformities. Unconformities are so common that today that sequence stratigraphy - the mapping and correlation of conformable sequences - is a major field in Geology. With unconformities factored in, the age of the Earth would have to be much greater than 36 million years.
Similar attempts yielded results that varied widely between 3 million and 1. Evolution stokes the fire: By the s century, the controversy surrounding evolution prompted new attention. After all, if the Earth were too young for there to have been time for evolution, the evolution debate would be over. Ocean salinity: In John Joly , acting on suggestion of Edmund Halley , attempted estimate based on the salinity of the ocean.
He calculated the amount of salt being transported into the oceans by rivers and compared this to the salinity of sea water, obtaining an age of 90 million years. Sir William Thomson, Lord Kelvin , during the late 19th century, assumed that the Earth had originally been molten then, using averge melting point of rocks and the laws of thermodynamics, determined that the Earth would completely solidify within 20 million years.
Both uniformitarians and evolutionists were uncomfortable, since their notions required a much older Earth, but the quantitative rigor of Thomson's approach made his the most prestigeous estimate of his day. As it developed, both Joly and Tomson were leaving vital but unknown information out of their equations. Joly missed that salt is removed from the oceans by various processes.
Kelvin could not have know that new heat is generated inside the Earth by radioactive decay nuclear fission , because the process had not been discovered. The discovery of radioactivity: Ironically, radioactive decay, which frustrated Kelvin's purpose, ended up providing the true key to the absolute dating of rocks.
Antoine Becquerel Discovered natural radioactivity In the following years, a large number of radioactive isotopes and their daughter products became known. Pierre and Marie Curie: 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. Closure temperature If a material that selectively rejects the daughter nuclide is heated, any daughter nuclides that have been accumulated over time will be lost through diffusion , setting the isotopic "clock" to zero.
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 age is calculated from the slope of the isochron line and the original composition from the intercept of the isochron with the y-axis. The equation is most conveniently expressed in terms of the measured quantity N t rather than the constant initial value No.
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. Modern dating methods[ edit ] 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 dating method[ edit ] Main article: Uranium—lead dating A concordia diagram as used in uranium—lead dating , with data from the Pfunze Belt , Zimbabwe. 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.
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. 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. Samarium—neodymium dating method[ edit ] Main article: Samarium—neodymium dating 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. Potassium—argon dating This involves electron capture or positron decay of potassium to argon Potassium has a half-life of 1.
Rubidium—strontium dating method[ edit ] Main article: Rubidium—strontium dating This is based on the beta decay of rubidium to strontium , with a half-life of 50 billion years.
This scheme is used to date old igneous and metamorphic rocks , and 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. Uranium—thorium dating method[ edit ] Main article: Uranium—thorium dating 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.
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 sediments , from which their ratios are measured. The scheme has a range of several hundred thousand years. A related method is ionium—thorium dating , which measures the ratio of ionium thorium to thorium in ocean sediment.
Radiocarbon dating method[ edit ] Main article: Carbon is a radioactive isotope of carbon, with a half-life of 5, years   which is very short compared with the above isotopes , and 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 CO2.
A carbon-based life form acquires carbon during its lifetime. Plants acquire it through photosynthesis , and 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. 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.