# Why cant carbon 14 dating be used to date the age of rocks

Carbon dating

### Why cant carbon 14 dating be used to date the age of rocks - carbon dating

Whatever carbon—14 was present at the time of the organism's death begins to decay to nitrogen—14 by emitting radiation in a process known as beta decay. The difference between the concentration of carbon—14 in the material to be dated and the concentration in the atmosphere provides a basis for estimating the age of a specimen, given that the rate of decay of carbon—14 is well known. The length of time required for one-half of the unstable carbon—14 nuclei to decay i.

Libby began testing his carbon—14 dating procedure by dating objects whose ages were already known, such as samples from Egyptian tombs. He found that his methods, while not as accurate as he had hoped, were fairly reliable. Libby's method, called radiocarbon or carbon—14 dating, gave new impetus to the science of radioactive dating. Using the carbon—14 method, scientists determined the ages of artifacts from many ancient civilizations.

Still, even with the help of laboratories worldwide, radiocarbon dating was only accurate up to 70, years old, since objects older than this contained far too little carbon—14 for the equipment to detect. Starting where Boltwood and Libby left off, scientists began to search for other long-lived isotopes. They developed the uranium-thorium method, the potassium-argon method, and the rubidium-strontium method, all of which are based on the transformation of one element into another.

Other possible confounding variables are the mechanisms that can alter daughter-to-parent ratios. We can see that many varieties of minerals are produced from the same magma by the different processes of crystallization, and these different minerals may have very different compositions.

It is possible that the ratio of daughter to parent substances for radiometric dating could differ in the different minerals. Clearly, it is important to have a good understanding of these processes in order to evaluate the reliability of radiometric dating. Other confounding factors such as contamination and fractionation issues are frankly acknowledged by the geologic community, but are not taken into consideration when the accuracy and validity of these dating methods are examined.

The following quotation from Elaine G. Kennedy addresses this problem. Contamination and fractionation issues are frankly acknowledged by the geologic community. For example, if a magma chamber does not have homogeneously mixed isotopes, lighter daughter products could accumulate in the upper portion of the chamber. If this occurs, initial volcanic eruptions would have a preponderance of daughter products relative to the parent isotopes. Such a distribution would give the appearance of age.

As the magma chamber is depleted in daughter products, subsequent lava flows and ash beds would have younger dates. It does suggest at least one aspect of the problem that could be researched more thoroughly. The problems inherent in radiometric dating often cause them to be so unreliable that they contradict one another rather than validating each other.

It would really be nice if geologists would just do a double blind study sometime to find out what the distributions of the ages are. In practice, geologists carefully select what rocks they will date, and have many explanations for discordant dates, so it's not clear how such a study could be done, but it might be a good project for creationists.

There is also evidence that many anomalies are never reported. There are so many complicated phenomena to consider like this that it calls the whole radiometric dating scheme into question. Only then can you gauge the accuracy and validity of that race. We need to observe when the race begins, how the race is run are there variations from the course, is the runner staying within the course, are they taking performance enhancing drugs, etc.

All bases must be covered if we are going to accurately time the race. This is the major flaw in radiometric dating, e. Secondly, you must have an observable time span so we can be certain nothing has affected the amount of the radioactive element being measured, e.

Finally, we need to be certain about the end or finish point. This is some finite point in the future. Without an accurate starting time, an observable span in between, and an observable finish, our measurement cannot be deemed accurate.

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, [25] [26] 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.

### How do geologists use carbon dating to find the age of rocks? :

The half-life of carbon is approximately 5, years. 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. It is possible that the ratio of daughter to parent substances for radiometric dating could differ in the different minerals.