Radiopotassium dating is a type of relative dating

Radiometric dating

  1. Fossils and Their Place in Time and Nature
  2. Absolute dating - Wikipedia
  3. Absolute dating
  4. Introduction
  5. General considerations

In the ideal case, the geologist will discover a single rock unit with a unique collection of easily observed attributes called a marker horizon that can be found at widely spaced localities. Any feature, including colour variations, textures, fossil content, mineralogy , or any unusual combinations of these can be used. It is only by correlations that the conditions on different parts of Earth at any particular stage in its history can be deduced.

In addition, because sediment deposition is not continuous and much rock material has been removed by erosion , the fossil record from many localities has to be integrated before a complete picture of the evolution of life on Earth can be assembled. Using this established record, geologists have been able to piece together events over the past million years, or about one-eighth of Earth history, during which time useful fossils have been abundant. The need to correlate over the rest of geologic time, to correlate nonfossiliferous units, and to calibrate the fossil time scale has led to the development of a specialized field that makes use of natural radioactive isotopes in order to calculate absolute ages.

The precise measure of geologic time has proven to be the essential tool for correlating the global tectonic processes that have taken place in the past. Precise isotopic ages are called absolute ages, since they date the timing of events not relative to each other but as the time elapsed between a rock-forming event and the present. The same margin of error applies for younger fossiliferous rocks, making absolute dating comparable in precision to that attained using fossils. To achieve this precision, geochronologists have had to develop the ability to isolate certain high-quality minerals that can be shown to have remained closed to migration of the radioactive parent atoms they contain and the daughter atoms formed by radioactive decay over billions of years of geologic time.

In addition, they have had to develop special techniques with which to dissolve these highly refractory minerals without contaminating the small amount about one-billionth of a gram of contained lead and uranium on which the age must be calculated. Since parent uranium atoms change into daughter atoms with time at a known rate, their relative abundance leads directly to the absolute age of the host mineral. In fact, even in younger rocks, absolute dating is the only way that the fossil record can be calibrated. Without absolute ages, investigators could only determine which fossil organisms lived at the same time and the relative order of their appearance in the correlated sedimentary rock record.

Unlike ages derived from fossils, which occur only in sedimentary rocks, absolute ages are obtained from minerals that grow as liquid rock bodies cool at or below the surface. When rocks are subjected to high temperatures and pressures in mountain roots formed where continents collide, certain datable minerals grow and even regrow to record the timing of such geologic events. When these regions are later exposed in uptilted portions of ancient continents, a history of terrestrial rock-forming events can be deduced. Episodes of global volcanic activity , rifting of continents, folding, and metamorphism are defined by absolute ages.

The results suggest that the present-day global tectonic scheme was operative in the distant past as well. Continents move, carried on huge slabs, or plates, of dense rock about km 62 miles thick over a low-friction, partially melted zone the asthenosphere below.

In the oceans , new seafloor, created at the globe-circling oceanic ridges , moves away, cools, and sinks back into the mantle in what are known as subduction zones i. Where this occurs at the edge of a continent, as along the west coast of North and South America, large mountain chains develop with abundant volcanoes and their subvolcanic equivalents. These units, called igneous rock , or magma in their molten form, constitute major crustal additions. By contrast, crustal destruction occurs at the margins of two colliding continents, as, for example, where the subcontinent of India is moving north over Asia.

Fossils and Their Place in Time and Nature

Great uplift, accompanied by rapid erosion, is taking place and large sediment fans are being deposited in the Indian Ocean to the south. Rocks of this kind in the ancient record may very well have resulted from rapid uplift and continent collision. When continental plates collide, the edge of one plate is thrust onto that of the other. The rocks in the lower slab undergo changes in their mineral content in response to heat and pressure and will probably become exposed at the surface again some time later. Rocks converted to new mineral assemblages because of changing temperatures and pressures are called metamorphic.

Virtually any rock now seen forming at the surface can be found in exposed deep crustal sections in a form that reveals through its mineral content the temperature and pressure of burial.

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Such regions of the crust may even undergo melting and subsequent extrusion of melt magma, which may appear at the surface as volcanic rocks or may solidify as it rises to form granites at high crustal levels. Magmas produced in this way are regarded as recycled crust, whereas others extracted by partial melting of the mantle below are considered primary.

Even the oceans and atmosphere are involved in this great cycle because minerals formed at high temperatures are unstable at surface conditions and eventually break down or weather, in many cases taking up water and carbon dioxide to make new minerals. If such minerals were deposited on a downgoing i. These components would then rise and be fixed in the upper crust or perhaps reemerge at the surface. Such hot circulating fluids can dissolve metals and eventually deposit them as economic mineral deposits on their way to the surface. Geochronological studies have provided documentary evidence that these rock-forming and rock-re-forming processes were active in the past.

Seafloor spreading has been traced, by dating minerals found in a unique grouping of rock units thought to have been formed at the oceanic ridges, to million years ago, with rare occurrences as early as 2 billion years ago. Other ancient volcanic units document various cycles of mountain building. The source of ancient sediment packages like those presently forming off India can be identified by dating single detrital grains of zircon found in sandstone.

Magmas produced by the melting of older crust can be identified because their zircons commonly contain inherited older cores. Episodes of continental collision can be dated by isolating new zircons formed as the buried rocks underwent local melting. Periods of deformation associated with major collisions cannot be directly dated if no new minerals have formed. The time of deformation can be bracketed, however, if datable units, which both predate and postdate it, can be identified.

The timing of cycles involving the expulsion of fluids from deep within the crust can be ascertained by dating new minerals formed at high pressures in exposed deep crustal sections. In some cases, it is possible to prove that gold deposits may have come from specific fluids if the deposition time of the deposits can be determined and the time of fluid expulsion is known.

Where the crust is under tension, as in Iceland, great fissures develop. These fissures serve as conduits that allow black lava , called basalt , to reach the surface. The portion that remains in a fissure below the surface usually forms a vertical black tubular body known as a dike or dyke. Precise dating of such dikes can reveal times of crustal rifting in the past. Dikes and lava, now exposed on either side of Baffin Bay , have been dated to determine the time when Greenland separated from North America—namely, about 60 million years ago.

Combining knowledge of Earth processes observed today with absolute ages of ancient geologic analogues seems to indicate that the oceans and atmosphere were present by at least 4 billion years ago and that they were probably released by early heating of the planet. The continents were produced over time; the oldest preserved portions were formed approximately 4 billion years ago, but this process had begun about by 4.

Absolute dating - Wikipedia

Absolute dating allows rock units formed at the same time to be identified and reassembled into ancient mountain belts, which in many cases have been disassociated by subsequent tectonic processes. The most obvious of these is the Appalachian chain that occupies the east coast of North America and extends to parts of Newfoundland as well as parts of Ireland, England, and Norway.

Relic oceanic crust , formed between million and million years ago, was identified on both sides of the Atlantic in this chain, as were numerous correlative volcanic and sedimentary units. Evidence based on geologic description, fossil content, and absolute and relative ages leave no doubt that these rocks were all part of a single mountain belt before the Atlantic Ocean opened in stages from about million years ago.

Relative geologic ages can be deduced in rock sequences consisting of sedimentary, metamorphic, or igneous rock units. In fact, they constitute an essential part in any precise isotopic, or absolute, dating program. Such is the case because most rocks simply cannot be isotopically dated. Therefore, a geologist must first determine relative ages and then locate the most favourable units for absolute dating.

It is also important to note that relative ages are inherently more precise, since two or more units deposited minutes or years apart would have identical absolute ages but precisely defined relative ages. While absolute ages require expensive, complex analytical equipment, relative ages can be deduced from simple visual observations. Most methods for determining relative geologic ages are well illustrated in sedimentary rocks. These rocks cover roughly 75 percent of the surface area of the continents, and unconsolidated sediments blanket most of the ocean floor.

They provide evidence of former surface conditions and the life-forms that existed under those conditions. The sequence of a layered sedimentary series is easily defined because deposition always proceeds from the bottom to the top. This principle would seem self-evident, but its first enunciation more than years ago by Nicolaus Steno represented an enormous advance in understanding. Known as the principle of superposition , it holds that in a series of sedimentary layers or superposed lava flows the oldest layer is at the bottom, and layers from there upward become progressively younger.

On occasion, however, deformation may have caused the rocks of the crust to tilt, perhaps to the point of overturning them. Moreover, if erosion has blurred the record by removing substantial portions of the deformed sedimentary rock, it may not be at all clear which edge of a given layer is the original top and which is the original bottom. Identifying top and bottom is clearly important in sequence determination, so important in fact that a considerable literature has been devoted to this question alone.

Absolute dating

Many of the criteria of top—bottom determination are based on asymmetry in depositional features. Oscillation ripple marks, for example, are produced in sediments by water sloshing back and forth. When such marks are preserved in sedimentary rocks, they define the original top and bottom by their asymmetric pattern.

Certain fossils also accumulate in a distinctive pattern or position that serves to define the top side. In wind-blown or water-lain sandstone , a form of erosion during deposition of shifting sand removes the tops of mounds to produce what are called cross-beds. The truncated layers provide an easily determined depositional top direction.

The direction of the opening of mud cracks or rain prints can indicate the uppermost surface of mudstones formed in tidal areas. When a section of rock is uplifted and eroded, as during mountain-building episodes, great volumes of rock are removed, exposing a variety of differently folded and deformed rock units. The new erosion surface must postdate all units, dikes, veins, and deformation features that it crosses. Even the shapes formed on the erosional or depositional surfaces of the ancient seafloor can be used to tell which way was up.

A fragment broken from one bed can only be located in a younger unit, and a pebble or animal track can only deform a preexisting unit—i. In fact, the number of ways in which one can determine the tops of well-preserved sediments is limited only by the imagination, and visual criteria can be deduced by amateurs and professionals alike. One factor that can upset the law of superposition in major sediment packages in mountain belts is the presence of thrust faults.

Such faults , which are common in compression zones along continental edges, may follow bedding planes and then cross the strata at a steep angle, placing older units on top of younger ones. The most compelling argument for an age of the earth of 4. These tests have been performed on what are thought to be the earth's oldest surviving rocks, meteorites, and moon rocks. These tests have consistently given the same ages for each of these objects. Examples of a number of consistent dates derived from different methods are given.

A short but clear explanation about radioactive isotopes commonly used for determining ages of rocks with graphics and putting numbers on the geologic time scale, extending it back before the occurance of abundant index fossils. This is a relatively new method intended to to improve the precision of uranium and thorium istopy methods. It excludes contamination and weathering of travertines and makes possible more precise dating of thin deposits of secondary carbonates. No web-based resource for this method is available.

A team of University of Massachusetts geologists is exploring a new way to determine the ages of ancient rocks, and refining our understanding of the timing and rates of the geologic events that have shaped the planet. The new method offers greater efficiency, and access to a much more detailed geologic record than current dating methods. Obsidian hydration dating is based on the fact that a fresh surface is created on a piece of obsidian in the tool manufacturing, or flintknapping, process.

Obsidian contains about 0. When a piece of obsidian is fractured, atmospheric water is attracted to the surface and begins to diffuse into the glass. This results in the formation of a water rich hydration rind that increases in depth with time. The hydration process continues until the fresh obsidian surface contains about 3.

This is the saturation point. The thickness of the hydration rind can be identified in petrographic thin sections cut normal to the surface and observed under a microscope. A distinct diffusion front can be recognized by an abrupt change in refractive index at the inner edge of the hydration rind.

These fronts or rinds of hydration are more dense than the unhydrated inside, and the unhydrated zone has different optical properties. Friedman and Smith reasoned that the degree of hydration observed on an obsidian artifact could tell archaeologists how long it had been since that surface was created by a flintknapper. Introduction to Obsidian Hydration Dating: When a new surface of obsidian is exposed to the atmosphere, such as during the manufacture of glass tools, water begins to slowly diffuse from the surface into the interior of the specimen.

When this hydrated layer or rind reaches a thickness of about 0. Hydration rims formed on artifacts can vary in width from less than one micron for items from the early historic period to nearly 30 microns for early sites in Africa. It can be applied to date a large variety of volcanic materials such as rhyolitic lava flows, tephras and other pyroclastic deposits.

It can also date meteorite impact craters, earthquake-generated fault gouge material, contact heating and metamorphism of sediments baked by lava overflows, and anthropogenically heated materials such as ceramics, cooking hearths,and deliberately fire-treated rocks such as flints used by prehistoric people for toolmaking.

Additional information is available at Luminescence Dating. Scientists in North America first developed thermoluminescence dating of rock minerals in the s and s, and the University of Oxford, England first developed the thermoluminescence dating of fired ceramics in the s and s. During the s and s scientists at Simon Frasier University, Canada, developed standard thermoluminescence dating procedures used to date sediments. In , they also developed optically stimulated luminescence dating techniques, which use laser light, to date sediments.

This is a relative, and sometimes absolute, dating method that relates the diagenesis of fossil protein preserved in carbonate materials with time geologic age of the sample and temperature long term chemical temperature of the enclosing sediment. Stratigraphic applications of the method have been demonstrated from both marine and non-marine sequences all over the world using a variety of carbonate fossil materials including mollusks, foraminifera, bone, ostrich egg shells, ostracodes, and tooth enamel.

A brief explanation is given at Bear Lake Methods: Provides a frank discussion of possible problems encountered when using this method, and the need for cross-checking results against other methods. Fission-track dating is one type of radioactive dating method used by archaeologists to determine the thermal age of artifacts containing uranium-bearing minerals.

Fission tracks are created at a constant rate throughout time so that from the number of tracks present it is possible to determine the amount of time that has past since the track accumulation began. Dates from anywhere between twenty to one thousand million years ago can be determined with this particular technique. A brief description of the method. Scientists think that they have counted ice layers accurately.

And, they think that one layer almost always means one year. But are they right? Varves form two or more distinctive layers at different seasons of the year.

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Gives a nice description about overcoming problems in the use of this method. Counting Sediment Layers in Rock: The basic reason for varves is that rivers run faster in the spring. A flooding river carries coarse material.

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  • During the rest of the year, the river is slower, and carries finer material. The North American Varve Project: Tufts University website describing the research being done in establishing a North American varve chronology. Pollen analysis, study of vegetation history using the microfossils pollen grain and spores of size um , can give us useful information about the target area's condition in the present and past.

    Since the outside of the pollen grain wall is made of highly resistant material, the pollen spores from million years ago can be found today. Each pollen grain and spore is different in structure and shape, thus, the morphology is the key to understanding the kinds of vegetation that existed and their evolutionary development.

    Nice graphic of pollen history at this site. Pollen analysis is a method for reconstructing the past vegetation history in a particular area or context. As we know that vegetation cover in particular areas has altered over time, the technique used to be used as a generalized dating method. However the development of more precise dating methods, such as radiocarbon-dating and dendrochronology, has meant that that aspect of pollen analysis has faded away. Palynology is the branch of science dealing with microscopic, decay-resistant remains of certain plants and animals.

    It has many applications including archaeological palynology, Quaternary palynology , and stratigraphic palynology. Corals exhibit seasonal growth bands very much like those in trees. Sometimes these bands are visible to the naked eye; usually, however, they are more visible in an x-ray like the one shown at right.

    When paleoclimatologists drill a coral core, they can count the growth bands and date samples exactly.


    In certain modern corals we find growth-bands that indicate yearly, monthly, and even daily growth. There are about thirty daily bands per month and about daily bands per year for modern corals and shellfish. But careful analysis of the growth-bands of fossil corals and shellfish from the Devonian and Pennsylvanian has confirmed that years in these periods contained more days than years do now about Rocks are covered by a kind of varnish, a chemically-changed layer that builds up over time due to calcium and potassium seeping out of the rock.

    The cation ratio is determined by scraping the varnish from the carved or petroglyph surface back to the original rock surface and making a comparison of the two using a positively charged ion. This paper is an early example of the method applied to dating Australian petroglyphs.

    Fluorine dating is chiefly of value in determining whether bone implements or human skeletal remains found in association with other bones were buried at the same time. It was fluorine dating that was instrumental in the debunking of Piltdown Man. Although it is not an actual dating technique, patination is used when multiple artifacts of the same type are found in the same area and under the same conditions.

    The use of this technique is to determine the age of the artifacts, relative to the others, by comparing the thickness of the patina on them.

    General considerations

    There are many variables that have to be calculated, and this makes dating lithics from patina formations a relative dating technique. Oxidizable Carbon Ratio Dating. Even though OCR has the potential to provide archaeologists and geologists with a method of finding accurate and precise age estimates from organic carbon within soil, it is still new and in the experimental stage. Scientists question both the methods of the procedure and the accuracy of the results, which is common and needed when any new scientific theory arises.

    Federal and State organizations, museums, Cultural Resource Management companies, archaeologists, pedologists, and geomorphologists are all currently conducting field studies for OCR dating at hundreds of sites in Northeastern North America and in parts of Europe. 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.