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Radiometric Dating: Definition, How Does it Work, Uses & Examples . Sciencing

9.6 Radioactive dating

Radiometric dating , radioactive dating or radioisotope dating is a technique which is used to date materials such as rocks or carbon , in which trace radioactive impurities were selectively incorporated when they were formed. The method compares the abundance of a naturally occurring radioactive isotope within the material to the abundance of its decay products, which form at a known constant rate of decay. Together with stratigraphic principles , radiometric dating methods are used in geochronology to establish the geologic time scale. By allowing the establishment of geological timescales, it provides a significant source of information about the ages of fossils and the deduced rates of evolutionary change. Radiometric dating is also used to date archaeological materials, including ancient artifacts. Different methods of radiometric dating vary in the timescale over which they are accurate and the materials to which they can be applied. All ordinary matter is made up of combinations of chemical elements , each with its own atomic number , indicating the number of protons in the atomic nucleus.

This in turn depends in the approximate expected age of the object because radioactive elements decay at enormously different rates. Also, not all objects to be dated will have each of the elements commonly used; you can only date items with a given dating technique if they include the needed compound or compounds.

Uranium-lead U-Pb dating: Radioactive uranium comes in two forms, uranium and uranium The number refers to the number of protons plus neutrons.

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The half-life of uranium is 4. The long half-lives make this dating technique suitable for especially old materials, from about 1 million to 4. U-Pb dating is complex because of the two isotopes in play, but this property is also what makes it so precise. The method is also technically challenging because lead can "leak" out of many types of rocks, sometimes making the calculations difficult or impossible. U-Pb dating is often used to date igneous volcanic rocks, which can be hard to do because of the lack of fossils; metamorphic rocks; and very old rocks.

All of these are hard to date with the other methods described here. Rubidium-strontium Rb-Sr dating: Radioactive rubidium decays into strontium with a half -life of Not surprisingly, Ru-Sr dating is used to date very old rocks as old as the Earth, in fact, since the Earth is "only" around 4. Strontium exists in other stable i. Scientists can then compare the ratio of the strontium to the total amount of stable strontium isotopes to calculate the level of decay that produces the detected concentration of strontium This technique is often used to date igneous rocks and very old rocks.

Potassium-argon K-Ar dating: The radioactive potassium isotope is K, which decays into both calcium Ca and argon Ar in a ratio of Argon is a noble gas, which means that it is nonreactive and would not be a part of the initial formation of any rocks or fossils. Any argon found in a rocks or fossils therefore has to be the result of this kind of radioactive decay. The half-life of potassium is 1. Potassium is very abundant in the Earth, making it great for dating because it is found in some levels in most kinds of samples.

It is good for dating igneous rocks volcanic rocks. Carbon C dating: Carbon enters organisms from the atmosphere. When the organism dies, no more of the carbon isotope can enter the organism, and it will begin to decay starting at that point.

This normally involves isotope-ratio mass spectrometry.

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The precision of a dating method depends in part on the half-life of the radioactive isotope involved. For instance, carbon has a half-life of 5, years. After an organism has been dead for 60, years, so little carbon is left that accurate dating cannot be established.

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. The closure temperature or blocking temperature represents the temperature below which the mineral is a closed system for the studied isotopes.

If a material that selectively rejects the daughter nuclide is heated above this temperature, any daughter nuclides that have been accumulated over time will be lost through diffusionresetting the isotopic "clock" to zero.

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.

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. These temperatures are experimentally determined in the lab by artificially resetting sample minerals using a high-temperature furnace.

This field is known as thermochronology or thermochronometry. The mathematical expression that relates radioactive decay to geologic time is [14] [16]. The equation is most conveniently expressed in terms of the measured quantity N t rather than the constant initial value N o. 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. An isochron plot is used to solve the age equation graphically and calculate the age of the sample and the original composition.

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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.

Relative dating by biostratigraphy is the preferred method in paleontology and is, in some respects, more accurate. The Law of Superposition, which states that older layers will be deeper in a site than more recent layers, was the summary outcome of 'relative dating' as observed in geology from the 17th century to the early 20th century. Radiometric dating is a means of determining the age of very old objects, including the Earth itself. Radiometric dating depends on the decay of isotopes, which are different forms of the same element that include the same number of protons but different numbers of neutrons in their atoms. 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.

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.

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. Uranium-lead dating is often performed on the mineral zircon ZrSiO 4though it can be used on other materials, such as baddeleyiteas well as monazite see: monazite geochronology. 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. 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.

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This involves electron capture or positron decay of potassium to argon Potassium has a half-life of 1. This is based on the beta decay of rubidium to strontiumwith a half-life of 50 billion years.

This scheme is used to date old igneous and metamorphic rocksand 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.

Principle of radiometric age 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 sedimentsfrom which their ratios are measured.

The scheme has a range of several hundred thousand years. A related method is ionium-thorium datingwhich measures the ratio of ionium thorium to thorium in ocean sediment.

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Radiocarbon dating is also simply called carbon dating. Carbon is a radioactive isotope of carbon, with a half-life of 5, years [27] [28] which is very short compared with the above isotopesand 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 CO 2.

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A carbon-based life form acquires carbon during its lifetime. Plants acquire it through photosynthesisand animals acquire it from consumption of plants and other animals.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

Radiometric Dating is Flawed!! Really?? How Old IS the Earth?

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 micastektites glass fragments from volcanic eruptionsand meteorites are best used.

Older materials can be dated using zirconapatitetitaniteepidote 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. In its place, the particles that settle from the transporting medium will be finer-grained, and there will be a lateral transition from coarser- to finer-grained material.

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The lateral variation in sediment within a stratum is known as sedimentary facies. If sufficient sedimentary material is available, it will be deposited up to the limits of the sedimentary basin. Often, the sedimentary basin is within rocks that are very different from the sediments that are being deposited, in which the lateral limits of the sedimentary layer will be marked by an abrupt change in rock type.

Melt inclusions are small parcels or "blobs" of molten rock that are trapped within crystals that grow in the magmas that form igneous rocks. In many respects they are analogous to fluid inclusions.

Melt inclusions are generally small - most are less than micrometres across a micrometre is one thousandth of a millimeter, or about 0. Nevertheless, they can provide an abundance of useful information. Using microscopic observations and a range of chemical microanalysis techniques geochemists and igneous petrologists can obtain a range of useful information from melt inclusions.

Two of the most common uses of melt inclusions are to study the compositions of magmas present early in the history of specific magma systems. This is because inclusions can act like "fossils" - trapping and preserving these early melts before they are modified by later igneous processes.

Principles of Radiometric Dating

In addition, because they are trapped at high pressures many melt inclusions also provide important information about the contents of volatile elements such as H 2 O, CO 2S and Cl that drive explosive volcanic eruptions. Sorby was the first to document microscopic melt inclusions in crystals. The study of melt inclusions has been driven more recently by the development of sophisticated chemical analysis techniques. Scientists from the former Soviet Union lead the study of melt inclusions in the decades after World War II Sobolev and Kostyuk,and developed methods for heating melt inclusions under a microscope, so changes could be directly observed.

Although they are small, melt inclusions may contain a number of different constituents, including glass which represents magma that has been quenched by rapid coolingsmall crystals and a separate vapour-rich bubble. They occur in most of the crystals found in igneous rocks and are common in the minerals quartzfeldsparolivine and pyroxene.

The formation of melt inclusions appears to be a normal part of the crystallization of minerals within magmas, and they can be found in both volcanic and plutonic rocks. The law of included fragments is a method of relative dating in geology. Essentially, this law states that clasts in a rock are older than the rock itself.

Another example is a derived fossilwhich is a fossil that has been eroded from an older bed and redeposited into a younger one. These foreign bodies are picked up as magma or lava flowsand are incorporated, later to cool in the matrix. As a result, xenoliths are older than the rock which contains them Relative dating is used to determine the order of events on Solar System objects other than Earth; for decades, planetary scientists have used it to decipher the development of bodies in the Solar Systemparticularly in the vast majority of cases for which we have no surface samples.

Many of the same principles are applied. For example, if a valley is formed inside an impact craterthe valley must be younger than the crater. Craters are very useful in relative dating; as a general rule, the younger a planetary surface is, the fewer craters it has. If long-term cratering rates are known to enough precision, crude absolute dates can be applied based on craters alone; however, cratering rates outside the Earth-Moon system are poorly known.

Relative dating methods in archaeology are similar to some of those applied in geology.

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The principles of typology can be compared to the biostratigraphic approach in geology. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Not to be confused with Incest.

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For relative dating of words and sound in languages, see Historical linguistics. Main article: Typology archaeology.

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