- Principles of Radiometric Dating
- Radiometric Dating Does Work!
- Radiometric Dating
- Radiometric Dating
This is a radiometric technique since it is based on radioactive decay. Carbon moves up the food chain as animals eat plants and as predators eat other animals. With death, the uptake of carbon stops. It takes 5, years for half the carbon to change to nitrogen; this is the half-life of carbon After another 5, years only one-quarter of the original carbon will remain. After yet another 5, years only one-eighth will be left.
By measuring the carbon in organic material , scientists can determine the date of death of the organic matter in an artifact or ecofact. The relatively short half-life of carbon, 5, years, makes dating reliable only up to about 50, years.
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The technique often cannot pinpoint the date of an archeological site better than historic records, but is highly effective for precise dates when calibrated with other dating techniques such as tree-ring dating. An additional problem with carbon dates from archeological sites is known as the "old wood" problem.
It is possible, particularly in dry, desert climates, for organic materials such as from dead trees to remain in their natural state for hundreds of years before people use them as firewood or building materials, after which they become part of the archaeological record. Thus dating that particular tree does not necessarily indicate when the fire burned or the structure was built. For this reason, many archaeologists prefer to use samples from short-lived plants for radiocarbon dating. The development of accelerator mass spectrometry AMS dating, which allows a date to be obtained from a very small sample, has been very useful in this regard.
Other radiometric dating techniques are available for earlier periods. One of the most widely used is potassium—argon dating K—Ar dating. Potassium is a radioactive isotope of potassium that decays into argon The half-life of potassium is 1. Potassium is common in rocks and minerals, allowing many samples of geochronological or archeological interest to be dated.
Argon , a noble gas, is not commonly incorporated into such samples except when produced in situ through radioactive decay. The date measured reveals the last time that the object was heated past the closure temperature at which the trapped argon can escape the lattice. K—Ar dating was used to calibrate the geomagnetic polarity time scale.
Thermoluminescence testing also dates items to the last time they were heated. This technique is based on the principle that all objects absorb radiation from the environment. This process frees electrons within minerals that remain caught within the item. Heating an item to degrees Celsius or higher releases the trapped electrons , producing light. This light can be measured to determine the last time the item was heated. Radiation levels do not remain constant over time. Fluctuating levels can skew results — for example, if an item went through several high radiation eras, thermoluminescence will return an older date for the item.
If you shake the hourglass, twirl it, or put it in a rapidly accelerating vehicle, the time it takes the sand to fall will change. But the radioactive atoms used in dating techniques have been subjected to heat, cold, pressure, vacuum, acceleration, and strong chemical reactions to the extent that would be experienced by rocks or magma in the mantle, crust, or surface of the Earth or other planets without any significant change in their decay rate.
In only a couple of special cases have any decay rates been observed to vary, and none of these special cases apply to the dating of rocks as discussed here. These exceptions are discussed later. An hourglass will tell time correctly only if it is completely sealed. If it has a hole allowing the sand grains to escape out the side instead of going through the neck, it will give the wrong time interval. Similarly, a rock that is to be dated must be sealed against loss or addition of either the radioactive daughter or parent.
If it has lost some of the daughter element, it will give an inaccurately young age. As will be discussed later, most dating techniques have very good ways of telling if such a loss has occurred, in which case the date is thrown out and so is the rock! An hourglass measures how much time has passed since it was turned over. Actually it tells when a specific amount of time, e. Radiometric dating of rocks also tells how much time has passed since some event occurred. For igneous rocks the event is usually its cooling and hardening from magma or lava.
For some other materials, the event is the end of a metamorphic heating event in which the rock gets baked underground at generally over a thousand degrees Fahrenheit , the uncovering of a surface by the scraping action of a glacier, the chipping of a meteorite off of an asteroid, or the length of time a plant or animal has been dead. There are now well over forty different radiometric dating techniques, each based on a different radioactive isotope.
The term isotope subdivides elements into groups of atoms that have the same atomic weight. For example carbon has isotopes of weight 12, 13, and 14 times the mass of a nucleon, referred to as carbon, carbon, or carbon abbreviated as 12 C, 13 C, 14 C. It is only the carbon isotope that is radioactive. This will be discussed further in a later section. A partial list of the parent and daughter isotopes and the decay half-lives is given in Table I. Notice the large range in the half-lives. Isotopes with long half-lives decay very slowly, and so are useful for dating.
Some Naturally Occurring Radioactive Isotopes and their half-lives. Years Samarium Neodymium billion Rubidium Strontium Isotopes with shorter half-lives cannot date very ancient events because all of the atoms of the parent isotope would have already decayed away, like an hourglass left sitting with all the sand at the bottom. Isotopes with relatively short half-lives are useful for dating correspondingly shorter intervals, and can usually do so with greater accuracy, just as you would use a stopwatch rather than a grandfather clock to time a meter dash.
On the other hand, you would use a calendar, not a clock, to record time intervals of several weeks or more. The half-lives have all been measured directly either by using a radiation detector to count the number of atoms decaying in a given amount of time from a known amount of the parent material, or by measuring the ratio of daughter to parent atoms in a sample that originally consisted completely of parent atoms. Work on radiometric dating first started shortly after the turn of the 20th century, but progress was relatively slow before the late. However, by now we have had over fifty years to measure and re-measure the half-lives for many of the dating techniques.
Very precise counting of the decay events or the daughter atoms can be done, so while the number of, say, rhenium atoms decaying in 50 years is a very small fraction of the total, the resulting osmium atoms can be very precisely counted. For example, recall that only one gram of material contains over 10 21 1 with 21 zeros behind atoms.
Even if only one trillionth of the atoms decay in one year, this is still millions of decays, each of which can be counted by a radiation detector! The uncertainties on the half-lives given in the table are all very small. There is no evidence of any of the half-lives changing over time. In fact, as discussed below, they have been observed to not change at all over hundreds of thousands of years.
Examples of Dating Methods for Igneous Rocks. Now let's look at how the actual dating methods work. Igneous rocks are good candidates for dating. Recall that for igneous rocks the event being dated is when the rock was formed from magma or lava. When the molten material cools and hardens, the atoms are no longer free to move about. Daughter atoms that result from radioactive decays occurring after the rock cools are frozen in the place where they were made within the rock. These atoms are like the sand grains accumulating in the bottom of the hourglass. Determining the age of a rock is a two-step process.
First one needs to measure the number of daughter atoms and the number of remaining parent atoms and calculate the ratio between them. Then the half-life is used to calculate the time it took to produce that ratio of parent atoms to daughter atoms. However, there is one complication. One cannot always assume that there were no daughter atoms to begin with. It turns out that there are some cases where one can make that assumption quite reliably.
But in most cases the initial amount of the daughter product must be accurately determined. Most of the time one can use the different amounts of parent and daughter present in different minerals within the rock to tell how much daughter was originally present. Each dating mechanism deals with this problem in its own way.
Some types of dating work better in some rocks; others are better in other rocks, depending on the rock composition and its age. Let's examine some of the different dating mechanisms now. Potassium is an abundant element in the Earth's crust. One isotope, potassium, is radioactive and decays to two different daughter products, calcium and argon, by two different decay methods.
This is not a problem because the production ratio of these two daughter products is precisely known, and is always constant: It is possible to date some rocks by the potassium-calcium method, but this is not often done because it is hard to determine how much calcium was initially present. Argon, on the other hand, is a gas.
Principles of Radiometric Dating
Whenever rock is melted to become magma or lava, the argon tends to escape. Once the molten material hardens, it begins to trap the new argon produced since the hardening took place.
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In this way the potassium-argon clock is clearly reset when an igneous rock is formed. In its simplest form, the geologist simply needs to measure the relative amounts of potassium and argon to date the rock. The age is given by a relatively simple equation:. However, in reality there is often a small amount of argon remaining in a rock when it hardens. This is usually trapped in the form of very tiny air bubbles in the rock.
One percent of the air we breathe is argon. Any extra argon from air bubbles may need to be taken into account if it is significant relative to the amount of radiogenic argon that is, argon produced by radioactive decays. This would most likely be the case in either young rocks that have not had time to produce much radiogenic argon, or in rocks that are low in the parent potassium. One must have a way to determine how much air-argon is in the rock. This is rather easily done because air-argon has a couple of other isotopes, the most abundant of which is argon The ratio of argon to argon in air is well known, at Thus, if one measures argon as well as argon, one can calculate and subtract off the air-argon to get an accurate age.
One of the best ways of showing that an age-date is correct is to confirm it with one or more different dating. Although potassium-argon is one of the simplest dating methods, there are still some cases where it does not agree with other methods. When this does happen, it is usually because the gas within bubbles in the rock is from deep underground rather than from the air.
This gas can have a higher concentration of argon escaping from the melting of older rocks. This is called parentless argon because its parent potassium is not in the rock being dated, and is also not from the air. In these slightly unusual cases, the date given by the normal potassium-argon method is too old. However, scientists in the mids came up with a way around this problem, the argon-argon method, discussed in the next section. Even though it has been around for nearly half a century, the argon-argon method is seldom discussed by groups critical of dating methods.
This method uses exactly the same parent and daughter isotopes as the potassium-argon method. In effect, it is a different way of telling time from the same clock. Instead of simply comparing the total potassium with the non-air argon in the rock, this method has a way of telling exactly what and how much argon is directly related to the potassium in the rock. In the argon-argon method the rock is placed near the center of a nuclear reactor for a period of hours. A nuclear reactor emits a very large number of neutrons, which are capable of changing a small amount of the potassium into argon Argon is not found in nature because it has only a year half-life.
This half-life doesn't affect the argon-argon dating method as long as the measurements are made within about five years of the neutron dose. The rock is then heated in a furnace to release both the argon and the argon representing the potassium for analysis. The heating is done at incrementally higher temperatures and at each step the ratio of argon to argon is measured.
If the argon is from decay of potassium within the rock, it will come out at the same temperatures as the potassium-derived argon and in a constant proportion. On the other hand, if there is some excess argon in the rock it will cause a different ratio of argon to argon for some or many of the heating steps, so the different heating steps will not agree with each other.
Figure 2 is an example of a good argon-argon date. The fact that this plot is flat shows that essentially all of the argon is from decay of potassium within the rock. The potassium content of the sample is found by multiplying the argon by a factor based on the neutron exposure in the reactor. When this is done, the plateau in the figure represents an age date based on the decay of potassium to argon There are occasions when the argon-argon dating method does not give an age even if there is sufficient potassium in the sample and the rock was old enough to date. This most often occurs if the rock experienced a high temperature usually a thousand degrees Fahrenheit or more at some point since its formation.
If that occurs, some of the argon gas moves around, and the analysis does not give a smooth plateau across the extraction temperature steps. An example of an argon-argon analysis that did not yield an age date is shown in Figure 3. Notice that there is no good plateau in this plot. In some instances there will actually be two plateaus, one representing the formation age, and another representing the time at which the heating episode occurred. But in most cases where the system has been disturbed, there simply is no date given.
The important point to note is that, rather than giving wrong age dates, this method simply does not give a date if the system has been disturbed. This is also true of a number of other igneous rock dating methods, as we will describe below. In nearly all of the dating methods, except potassium-argon and the associated argon-argon method, there is always some amount of the daughter product already in the rock when it cools. Using these methods is a little like trying to tell time from an hourglass that was turned over before all of the sand had fallen to the bottom.
One can think of ways to correct for this in an hourglass: One could make a mark on the outside of the glass where the sand level started from and then repeat the interval with a stopwatch in the other hand to calibrate it. Or if one is clever she or he could examine the hourglass' shape and determine what fraction of all the sand was at the top to start with. By knowing how long it takes all of the sand to fall, one could determine how long the time interval was. Similarly, there are good ways to tell quite precisely how much of the daughter product was already in the rock when it cooled and hardened.
Figure 4 is an important type of plot used in rubidium-strontium dating. This works because if there were no rubidium in the sample, the strontium composition would not change. The slope of the line is used to determine the age of the sample. As the rock starts to age, rubidium gets converted to strontium. The amount of strontium added to each mineral is proportional to the amount of rubidium present.
The solid line drawn through the samples will thus progressively rotate from the horizontal to steeper and steeper slopes. From that we can determine the original daughter strontium in each mineral, which is just what we need to know to determine the correct age.
It also turns out that the slope of the line is proportional to the age of the rock. The older the rock, the steeper the line will be. If the slope of the line is m and the half-life is h , the age t in years is given by the equation. For a system with a very long half-life like rubidium-strontium, the actual numerical value of the slope will always be quite small. To give an example for the above equation, if the slope of a line in a plot similar to Fig. Several things can on rare occasions cause problems for the rubidium-strontium dating method. One possible source of problems is if a rock contains some minerals that are older than the main part of the rock.
This can happen when magma inside the Earth picks up unmelted minerals from the surrounding rock as the magma moves through a magma chamber. Usually a good geologist can distinguish these "xenoliths" from the younger minerals around them. If he or she does happen to use them for dating the rock, the points represented by these minerals will lie off the line made by the rest of the points.
Another difficulty can arise if a rock has undergone metamorphism, that is, if the rock got very hot, but not hot enough to completely re-melt the rock. In these cases, the dates look confused, and do not lie along a line. Some of the minerals may have completely melted, while others did not melt at all, so some minerals try to give the igneous age while other minerals try to give the metamorphic age. In these cases there will not be a straight line, and no date is determined.
In a few very rare instances the rubidium-strontium method has given straight lines that give wrong ages. This can happen when the rock being dated was formed from magma that was not well mixed, and which had two distinct batches of rubidium and strontium. One magma batch had rubidium and strontium compositions near the upper end of a line such as in Fig. In this case, the. This is called a two-component mixing line. It is a very rare occurrence in these dating mechanisms, but at least thirty cases have been documented among the tens of thousands of rubidium-strontium dates made.
The agreement of several dating methods is the best fail-safe way of dating rocks. All of these methods work very similarly to the rubidium-strontium method. They all use three-isotope diagrams similar to Figure 4 to determine the age. The samarium-neodymium method is the most-often used of these three.
It uses the decay of samarium to neodymium, which has a half-life of billion years. The ratio of the daughter isotope, neodymium, to another neodymium isotope, neodymium, is plotted against the ratio of the parent, samarium, to neodymium If different minerals from the same rock plot along a line, the slope is determined, and the age is given by the same equation as above. The samarium-neodymium method may be preferred for rocks that have very little potassium and rubidium, for which the potassium-argon, argon-argon, and rubidium-strontium methods might be difficult.
The samarium-neodymium method has also been shown to be more resistant to being disturbed or re-set by metamorphic heating events, so for some metamorphosed rocks the samarium-neodymium method is preferred. For a rock of the same age, the slope on the neodymium-samarium plots will be less than on a rubidium-strontium plot because the half-life is longer. However, these isotope ratios are usually measured to extreme accuracy--several parts in ten thousand--so accurate dates can be obtained even for ages less than one fiftieth of a half-life, and with correspondingly small slopes.
The lutetium-hafnium method uses the 38 billion year half-life of lutetium decaying to hafnium This dating system is similar in many ways to samarium-neodymium, as the elements tend to be concentrated in the same types of minerals. Since samarium-neodymium dating is somewhat easier, the lutetium-hafnium method is used less often.
The rhenium-osmium method takes advantage of the fact that the osmium concentration in most rocks and minerals is very low, so a small amount of the parent rhenium can produce a significant change in the osmium isotope ratio. The half-life for this radioactive decay is 42 billion years. The non-radiogenic stable isotopes, osmium or , are used as the denominator in the ratios on the three-isotope plots. This method has been useful for dating iron meteorites, and is now enjoying greater use for dating Earth rocks due to development of easier rhenium and osmium isotope measurement techniques.
Uranium-Lead and related techniques. The uranium-lead method is the longest-used dating method. It was first used in , about a century ago. The uranium-lead system is more complicated than other parent-daughter systems; it is actually several dating methods put together. Natural uranium consists primarily of two isotopes, U and U, and these isotopes decay with different half-lives to produce lead and lead, respectively. In addition, lead is produced by thorium Only one isotope of lead, lead, is not radiogenic.
Radiometric Dating Does Work!
The uranium-lead system has an interesting complication: Each decays through a series of relatively short-lived radioactive elements that each decay to a lighter element, finally ending up at lead. Since these half-lives are so short compared to U, U, and thorium, they generally do not affect the overall dating scheme. The result is that one can obtain three independent estimates of the age of a rock by measuring the lead isotopes and their parent isotopes.
Long-term dating based on the U, U, and thorium will be discussed briefly here; dating based on some of the shorter-lived intermediate isotopes is discussed later. The uranium-lead system in its simpler forms, using U, U, and thorium, has proved to be less reliable than many of the other dating systems.
This is because both uranium and lead are less easily retained in many of the minerals in which they are found. Yet the fact that there are three dating systems all in one allows scientists to easily determine whether the system has been disturbed or not. Using slightly more complicated mathematics, different combinations of the lead isotopes and parent isotopes can be plotted in such a way as to. One of these techniques is called the lead-lead technique because it determines the ages from the lead isotopes alone.
Some of these techniques allow scientists to chart at what points in time metamorphic heating events have occurred, which is also of significant interest to geologists. The Age of the Earth. We now turn our attention to what the dating systems tell us about the age of the Earth. The most obvious constraint is the age of the oldest rocks. These have been dated at up to about four billion years.
But actually only a very small portion of the Earth 's rocks are that old. From satellite data and other measurements we know that the Earth's surface is constantly rearranging itself little by little as Earth quakes occur. Such rearranging cannot occur without some of the Earth's surface disappearing under other parts of the Earth's surface, re-melting some of the rock.
So it appears that none of the rocks have survived from the creation of the Earth without undergoing remelting, metamorphism, or erosion, and all we can say--from this line of evidence--is that the Earth appears to be at least as old as the four billion year old rocks. When scientists began systematically dating meteorites they learned a very interesting thing: These meteorites are chips off the asteroids. When the asteroids were formed in space, they cooled relatively quickly some of them may never have gotten very warm , so all of their rocks were formed within a few million years.
The asteroids' rocks have not been remelted ever since, so the ages have generally not been disturbed. Meteorites that show evidence of being from the largest asteroids have slightly younger ages. The moon is larger than the largest asteroid. Most of the rocks we have from the moon do not exceed 4. The samples thought to be the oldest are highly pulverized and difficult to date, though there are a few dates extending all the way to 4.
Most scientists think that all the bodies in the solar system were created at about the same time. Evidence from the uranium, thorium, and lead isotopes links the Earth's age with that of the meteorites. This would make the Earth 4. There is another way to determine the age of the Earth.
If we see an hourglass whose sand has run out, we know that it was turned over longer ago than the time interval it measures. Similarly, if we find that a radioactive parent was once abundant but has since run out, we know that it too was set longer ago than the time interval it measures. There are in fact many, many more parent isotopes than those listed in Table 1. However, most of them are no longer found naturally on Earth--they have run out. Their half-lives range down to times shorter than we can measure. Every single element has radioisotopes that no longer exist on Earth!
Many people are familiar with a chart of the elements Fig. Nuclear chemists and geologists use a different kind of figure to show all of the isotopes. It is called a chart of the nuclides. Figure 7 shows a portion of this chart. It is basically a plot of the number of protons vs. Recall that an element is defined by how many protons it has. Each element can have a number of different isotopes, that is,. A portion of the chart of the nuclides showing isotopes of argon and potassium, and some of the isotopes of chlorine and calcium. Isotopes shown in dark green are found in rocks.
Isotopes shown in light green have short half-lives, and thus are no longer found in rocks. Short-lived isotopes can be made for nearly every element in the periodic table, but unless replenished by cosmic rays or other radioactive isotopes, they no longer exist in nature. So each element occupies a single row, while different isotopes of that element lie in different columns.
For potassium found in nature, the total neutrons plus protons can add up to 39, 40, or Potassium and are stable, but potassium is unstable, giving us the dating methods discussed above. Besides the stable potassium isotopes and potassium, it is possible to produce a number of other potassium isotopes, but, as shown by the half-lives of these isotopes off to the side, they decay away.
Now, if we look at which radioisotopes still exist and which do not, we find a very interesting fact. Nearly all isotopes with half-lives shorter than half a billion years are no longer in existence. For example, although most rocks contain significant amounts of Calcium, the isotope Calcium half-life , years does not exist just as potassium, , , etc.
Just about the only radioisotopes found naturally are those with very long half-lives of close to a billion years or longer, as illustrated in the time line in Fig. The only isotopes present with shorter half-lives are those that have a source constantly replenishing them. Chlorine shown in Fig. In a number of cases there is. Some of these isotopes and their half-lives are given in Table II. This is conclusive evidence that the solar system was created longer ago than the span of these half lives!
On the other hand, the existence in nature of parent isotopes with half lives around a billion years and longer is strong evidence that the Earth was created not longer ago than several billion years. The Earth is old enough that radioactive isotopes with half-lives less than half a billion years decayed away, but not so old that radioactive isotopes with longer half-lives are gone. This is just like finding hourglasses measuring a long time interval still going, while hourglasses measuring shorter intervals have run out.
Years Plutonium 82 million Iodine 16 million Palladium 6. Unlike the radioactive isotopes discussed above, these isotopes are constantly being replenished in small amounts in one of two ways. The bottom two entries, uranium and thorium, are replenished as the long-lived uranium atoms decay. These will be discussed in the next section. The other three, Carbon, beryllium, and chlorine are produced by cosmic rays--high energy particles and photons in space--as they hit the Earth's upper atmosphere.
Very small amounts of each of these isotopes are present in the air we breathe and the water we drink. As a result, living things, both plants and animals, ingest very small amounts of carbon, and lake and sea sediments take up small amounts of beryllium and chlorine The cosmogenic dating clocks work somewhat differently than the others. Carbon in particular is used to date material such as bones, wood, cloth, paper, and other dead tissue from either plants or animals.
To a rough approximation, the ratio of carbon to the stable isotopes, carbon and carbon, is relatively constant in the atmosphere and living organisms, and has been well calibrated. Once a living thing dies, it no longer takes in carbon from food or air, and the amount of carbon starts to drop with time. Since the half-life of carbon is less than 6, years, it can only be used for dating material less than about 45, years old. Dinosaur bones do not have carbon unless contaminated , as the dinosaurs became extinct over 60 million years ago.
But some other animals that are now extinct, such as North American mammoths, can be dated by carbon Also, some materials from prehistoric times, as well as Biblical events, can be dated by carbon The carbon dates have been carefully cross-checked with non-radiometric age indicators. For example growth rings in trees, if counted carefully, are a reliable way to determine the age of a tree. Each growth ring only collects carbon from the air and nutrients during the year it is made. To calibrate carbon, one can analyze carbon from the center several rings of a tree, and then count the rings inward from the living portion to determine the actual age.
This has been done for the "Methuselah of trees", the bristlecone pine trees, which grow very slowly and live up to 6, years. Scientists have extended this calibration even further. These trees grow in a very dry region near the California-Nevada border. Dead trees in this dry climate take many thousands of years to decay. Growth ring patterns based on wet and dry years can be correlated between living and long dead trees, extending the continuous ring count back to 11, years ago. An effort is presently underway to bridge the gaps so as to have a reliable, continuous record significantly farther back in time.
The study of tree rings and the ages they give is called "dendrochronology". Calibration of carbon back to almost 50, years ago has been done in several ways.
One way is to find yearly layers that are produced over longer periods of time than tree rings. In some lakes or bays where underwater sedimentation occurs at a relatively rapid rate, the sediments have seasonal patterns, so each year produces a distinct layer. Such sediment layers are called "varves", and are described in more detail below. Varve layers can be counted just like tree rings. If layers contain dead plant material, they can be used to calibrate the carbon ages. Another way to calibrate carbon farther back in time is to find recently-formed carbonate deposits and cross-calibrate the carbon in them with another short-lived radioactive isotope.
Where do we find recently-formed carbonate deposits? If you have ever taken a tour of a cave and seen water dripping from stalactites on the ceiling to stalagmites on the floor of the cave, you have seen carbonate deposits being formed. Since most cave formations have formed relatively recently, formations such as stalactites and stalagmites have been quite useful in cross-calibrating the carbon record.
What does one find in the calibration of carbon against actual ages? If one predicts a carbon age assuming that the ratio of carbon to carbon in the air has stayed constant, there is a slight error because this ratio has changed slightly. Figure 9 shows that the carbon fraction in the air has decreased over the last 40, years by about a factor of two. This is attributed to a strengthening of the Earth's magnetic field during this time. A stronger magnetic field shields the upper atmosphere better from charged cosmic rays, resulting in less carbon production now than in the past.
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. 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 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. Thus both the approximate age and a high time resolution can be obtained. Generally a shorter half-life leads to a higher time resolution at the expense of timescale.
The iodine-xenon chronometer  is an isochron technique. Samples are exposed to neutrons in a nuclear reactor. This converts the only stable isotope of iodine I into Xe via neutron capture followed by beta decay of I. After irradiation, samples are heated in a series of steps and the xenon isotopic signature of the gas evolved in each step is analysed.
Samples of a meteorite called Shallowater are usually included in the irradiation to monitor the conversion efficiency from I to Xe. This in turn corresponds to a difference in age of closure in the early solar system. Another example of short-lived extinct radionuclide dating is the 26 Al — 26 Mg chronometer, which can be used to estimate the relative ages of chondrules.
The 26 Al — 26 Mg chronometer gives an estimate of the time period for formation of primitive meteorites of only a few million years 1. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Earth sciences portal Geophysics portal Physics portal. The disintegration products of uranium".
American Journal of Science. Radiometric Dating and the Geological Time Scale: Circular Reasoning or Reliable Tools? In Roth, Etienne; Poty, Bernard. Nuclear Methods of Dating. Annual Review of Nuclear Science. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. The age of the earth. Radiogenic isotope geology 2nd ed.