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Radiometric Dating: Methods, Uses & the Significance of Half-Life :
Visual Layers Summer ice has more bubbles and larger crystal sizes Observed to 60, years ago Dust Layers Measured by laser light scattering; most dust is deposited during spring and summer Observed to , years ago Layering of Elec-trical Conductivity Nitric acid from the stratosphere is deposited in the springtime, and causes a yearly layer in electrical conductivity measurement Observed through 60, years ago Contaminant Chemistry Layers Soot from summer forest fires, chemistry of dust, occasional volcanic ash Observed through 2, years; some older eruptions noted Hydrogen and Oxygen Isotope Layering Indicates temperature of precipitation. Different methods of radiometric dating can be used to estimate the age of a variety of natural and even man-made materials.
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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.
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.
Fission track dating method[ edit ] Main article: 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. 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 micas , tektites glass fragments from volcanic eruptions , and meteorites are best used.
Older materials can be dated using zircon , apatite , titanite , epidote 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 36Cl in the atmosphere is about 1 week. Thus, as an event marker of s water in soil and ground water, 36Cl is also useful for dating waters less than 50 years before the present.
Luminescence dating methods[ edit ] Main article: Luminescence dating 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. It acts like a simple parent-daughter system, and it can be used to date sediments. On the other hand, calcium carbonates produced biologically such as in corals, shells, teeth, and bones take in small amounts of uranium, but essentially no thorium because of its much lower concentrations in the water.
This allows the dating of these materials by their lack of thorium. A brand-new coral reef will have essentially no thorium As it ages, some of its uranium decays to thorium While the thorium itself is radioactive, this can be corrected for.
Comparison of uranium ages with ages obtained by counting annual growth bands of corals proves that the technique is page. The method has also been used to date stalactites and stalagmites from caves, already mentioned in connection with long-term calibration of the radiocarbon method. In fact, tens of thousands of uranium-series dates have been performed on cave formations around the world.
Previously, dating of anthropology sites had to rely on dating of geologic layers above and below the artifacts. But with improvements in this method, it is becoming possible to date the human and animal remains themselves. Work to date shows that dating of tooth enamel can be quite reliable. However, dating of bones can be more problematic, as bones are more susceptible to contamination by the surrounding soils.
As with all dating, the agreement of two or more methods is highly recommended for confirmation of a measurement. If the samples are beyond the range of radiocarbon e.
Non-Radiometric Dating Methods for the Past , Years We will digress briefly from radiometric dating to talk about other dating techniques. It is important to understand that a very large number of accurate dates covering the past , years has been obtained from many other methods besides radiometric dating. We have already mentioned dendrochronology tree ring dating above. Dendrochronology is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of non-radiometric dating methods.
Here we will look briefly at some other non-radiometric dating techniques. One of the best ways to measure farther back in time than tree rings is by using the seasonal variations in polar ice from Greenland and Antarctica. There are a number of differences between snow layers made in winter and those made in spring, summer, and fall.
These seasonal layers can be counted just like tree rings. The seasonal differences consist of a visual differences caused by increased bubbles and larger crystal size from summer ice compared to winter ice, b dust layers deposited each summer, c nitric acid concentrations, measured by electrical conductivity of the ice, d chemistry of contaminants in the ice, and e seasonal variations in the relative amounts of heavy hydrogen deuterium and heavy oxygen oxygen in the ice.
These isotope ratios are sensitive to the temperature at the time they fell as snow from the clouds. The heavy isotope is lower in abundance during the colder winter snows than it is in snow falling in spring and summer. So the yearly layers of ice can be tracked by each of these five different indicators, similar to growth rings on trees. The different types of layers are summarized in Table III.
Page 17 Ice cores are obtained by drilling very deep holes in the ice caps on Greenland and Antarctica with specialized drilling rigs. As the rigs drill down, the drill bits cut around a portion of the ice, capturing a long undisturbed "core" in the process.
These cores are carefully brought back to the surface in sections, where they are catalogued, and taken to research laboratories under refrigeration. A very large amount of work has been done on several deep ice cores up to 9, feet in depth. Several hundred thousand measurements are sometimes made for a single technique on a single ice core. A continuous count of layers exists back as far as , years. In addition to yearly layering, individual strong events such as large-scale volcanic eruptions can be observed and correlated between ice cores.
A number of historical eruptions as far back as Vesuvius nearly 2, years ago serve as benchmarks with which to determine the accuracy of the yearly layers as far down as around meters. As one goes further down in the ice core, the ice becomes more compacted than near the surface, and individual yearly layers are slightly more difficult to observe.
For this reason, there is some uncertainty as one goes back towards , years. Recently, absolute ages have been determined to 75, years for at least one location using cosmogenic radionuclides chlorine and beryllium G. These agree with the ice flow models and the yearly layer counts. Note that there is no indication anywhere that these ice caps were ever covered by a large body of water, as some people with young-Earth views would expect.
Polar ice core layers, counting back yearly layers, consist of the following: Visual Layers Summer ice has more bubbles and larger crystal sizes Observed to 60, years ago Dust Layers Measured by laser light scattering; most dust is deposited during spring and summer Observed to , years ago Layering of Elec-trical Conductivity Nitric acid from the stratosphere is deposited in the springtime, and causes a yearly layer in electrical conductivity measurement Observed through 60, years ago Contaminant Chemistry Layers Soot from summer forest fires, chemistry of dust, occasional volcanic ash Observed through 2, years; some older eruptions noted Hydrogen and Oxygen Isotope Layering Indicates temperature of precipitation.
Heavy isotopes oxygen and deuterium are depleted more in winter. Yearly layers observed through 1, years; Trends observed much farther back in time Varves. Another layering technique uses seasonal variations in sedimentary layers deposited underwater. The two requirements for varves to be useful in dating are 1 that sediments vary in character through the seasons to produce a visible yearly pattern, and 2 that the lake bottom not be disturbed after the layers are deposited.
These conditions are most often met in small, relatively deep lakes at mid to high latitudes. Shallower lakes typically experience an overturn in which the warmer water sinks to the bottom as winter approaches, but deeper lakes can have persistently thermally stratified temperature-layered water masses, leading to less turbulence, and better conditions for varve layers. Varves can be harvested by coring drills, somewhat similar to the harvesting of ice cores discussed above.
Overall, many hundreds of lakes have been studied for their varve patterns. Each yearly varve layer consists of a mineral matter brought in by swollen streams in the spring.
Regular sequences of varves have been measured going back to about 35, years. The thicknesses of the layers and the types of material in them tells a lot about the climate of the time when the layers were deposited. For example, pollens entrained in the layers can tell what types of plants were growing nearby at a particular time. Other annual layering methods. Besides tree rings, ice cores, and sediment varves, there are other processes that result in yearly layers that can be counted to determine an age.
Annual layering in coral reefs can be used to date sections of coral. Coral generally grows at rates of around 1 cm per year, and these layers are easily visible. As was mentioned in the uranium-series section, the counting of annual coral layers was used to verify the accuracy of the thorium method. There is a way of dating minerals and pottery that does not rely directly on half-lives.
Thermoluminescence dating, or TL dating, uses the fact that radioactive decays cause some electrons in a material to end up stuck in higher-energy orbits. The number of electrons in higher-energy orbits accumulates as a material experiences more natural radioactivity over time.
If the material is heated, these electrons can fall back to their original orbits, emitting a very tiny amount of light. If the heating occurs in a laboratory furnace equipped with a very sensitive light detector, this light can be recorded. The term comes from putting together thermo, meaning heat, and luminescence, meaning to emit light. By comparison of the amount of light emitted with the natural radioactivity rate the sample experienced, the age of the sample can be determined.
TL dating can generally be used on samples less than half a million years old. TL dating and its related techniques have been cross calibrated with samples of known historical age and with radiocarbon and thorium dating. While TL dating does not usually pinpoint the age with as great an accuracy as these other conventional radiometric dating, it is most useful for applications such as pottery or fine-grained volcanic dust, where other dating methods do not work as well.
Electron spin resonance ESR. Also called electron paramagnetic resonance, ESR dating also relies on the changes in electron orbits and spins caused by radioactivity over time.
However, ESR dating can be used over longer time periods, up to two million years, and works best on carbonates, such as in coral reefs and cave deposits. It has also seen extensive use in dating tooth enamel. This dating method relies on measuring certain isotopes produced by cosmic ray impacts on exposed rock surfaces. Because cosmic rays constantly bombard meteorites flying through space, this method has long been used to date the ' flight time' of meteorites--that is the time from when they were chipped off a larger body like an asteroid to the time they land on Earth.
The cosmic rays produce small amounts of naturally-rare isotopes such as neon and helium-3, which can be measured in the laboratory. The cosmic-ray exposure ages of meteorites are usually around 10 million years, but can be up to a billion years for some iron meteorites. In the last fifteen years, people have also used cosmic ray exposure ages to date rock surfaces on the Earth. This is much more complicated because the Earth's magnetic field and atmosphere shield us from most of the cosmic rays.
Cosmic ray exposure calibrations must take into page 19 account the elevation above sea level because the atmospheric shielding varies with elevation, and must also take into account latitude, as the magnetic shielding varies from the equator to the poles. Nevertheless, terrestrial cosmic-ray exposure dating has been shown to be useful in many cases. We have covered a lot of convincing evidence that the Earth was created a very long time ago.
The agreement of many different dating methods, both radiometric and non-radiometric, over hundreds of thousands of samples, is very convincing. Yet, some Christians question whether we can believe something so far back in the past. My answer is that it is similar to believing in other things of the past. It only differs in degree. Why do you believe Abraham Lincoln ever lived? Because it would take an extremely elaborate scheme to make up his existence, including forgeries, fake photos, and many other things, and besides, there is no good reason to simply have made him up.
Well, the situation is very similar for the dating of rocks, only we have rock records rather than historical records. There are well over forty different radiometric dating methods, and scores of other methods such as tree rings and ice cores. All of the different dating methods agree--they agree a great majority of the time over millions of years of time.
Some Christians make it sound like there is a lot of disagreement, but this is not the case. The disagreement in values needed to support the position of young-Earth proponents would require differences in age measured by orders of magnitude e. The differences actually found in the scientific literature are usually close to the margin of error, usually a few percent, not orders of magnitude! Vast amounts of data overwhelmingly favor an old Earth.
Several hundred laboratories around the world are active in radiometric dating. Their results consistently agree with an old Earth. Over a thousand papers on radiometric dating were published in scientifically recognized journals in the last year, and hundreds of thousands of dates have been published in the last 50 years. Essentially all of these strongly favor an old Earth. Radioactive decay rates have been measured for over sixty years now for many of the decay clocks without any observed changes.
And it has been close to a hundred years since the uranium decay rate was first determined.