Geologists often need to know the age of material that they find. They use absolute dating methods, sometimes called numerical dating, to give. Absolute dating is necessary for knowing specific time e.g. by isotope K/Ar in mica, The best way to obtain a numerical age for a sedimentary rock – other than the geological timescale – is through the direct dating of volcanic ash layers. Much of the Earth's geology consists of successional layers of different rock . Radiometric dating provides numerical values for the age of an.
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Absolute dating numerical age geology - MATERIALS REQUIRED FOR EACH GROUP
No bones about it, fossils are important age markers. But the most accurate forms of absolute age dating are radiometric methods. This method works because some unstable radioactive isotopes of some elements decay at a known rate into daughter products.
This rate of decay is called a half-life. Half-life simply means the amount of time it takes for half of a remaining particular isotope to decay to a daughter product.
Good discussion from the US Geological Survey: There are a couple catches, of course. Not all rocks have radioactive elements. Sedimentary rocks in particular are notoriously radioactive-free zones. So to date those, geologists look for layers like volcanic ash that might be sandwiched between the sedimentary layers, and that tend to have radioactive elements.
You might have noticed that many of the oldest age dates come from a mineral called zircon. Each radioactive isotope works best for particular applications. The half-life of carbon 14, for example, is 5, years.
On the other hand, the half-life of the isotope potassium 40 as it decays to argon is 1. Chart of a few different isotope half lifes: This happens at any time when addition of the fleeting "weak nuclear force" to the ever-present electrostatic repulsion exceeds the binding energy required to hold the nucleus together. In other words, during million years, half the U atoms that existed at the beginning of that time will decay to Pb This is known as the half life of U- Many elements have some isotopes that are unstable, essentially because they have too many neutrons to be balanced by the number of protons in the nucleus.
Each of these unstable isotopes has its own characteristic half life. Some half lives are several billion years long, and others are as short as a ten-thousandth of a second.
On a piece of notebook paper, each piece should be placed with the printed M facing down. This represents the parent isotope. The candy should be poured into a container large enough for them to bounce around freely, it should be shaken thoroughly, then poured back onto the paper so that it is spread out instead of making a pile. This first time of shaking represents one half life, and all those pieces of candy that have the printed M facing up represent a change to the daughter isotope.
Then, count the number of pieces of candy left with the M facing down. These are the parent isotope that did not change during the first half life. The teacher should have each team report how many pieces of parent isotope remain, and the first row of the decay table Figure 2 should be filled in and the average number calculated. The same procedure of shaking, counting the "survivors", and filling in the next row on the decay table should be done seven or eight more times.
Each time represents a half life. Each team should plot on a graph Figure 3 the number of pieces of candy remaining after each of their "shakes" and connect each successive point on the graph with a light line. AND, on the same graph, each group should plot points where, after each "shake" the starting number is divided by exactly two and connect these points by a differently colored line.
After the graphs are plotted, the teacher should guide the class into thinking about: Is it the single group's results, or is it the line based on the class average?
U is found in most igneous rocks. Unless the rock is heated to a very high temperature, both the U and its daughter Pb remain in the rock. A geologist can compare the proportion of U atoms to Pb produced from it and determine the age of the rock. The next part of this exercise shows how this is done. Each team is given a piece of paper marked TIME, on which is written either 2, 4, 6, 8, or 10 minutes.
The team should place each marked piece so that "U" is showing. This represents Uranium, which emits a series of particles from the nucleus as it decays to Lead Pb- As an example of how they are used, radiometric dates from geologically simple, fossiliferous Cretaceous rocks in western North America are compared to the geological time scale. To get to that point, there is also a historical discussion and description of non-radiometric dating methods.
A common form of criticism is to cite geologically complicated situations where the application of radiometric dating is very challenging. These are often characterised as the norm, rather than the exception.
I thought it would be useful to present an example where the geology is simple, and unsurprisingly, the method does work well, to show the quality of data that would have to be invalidated before a major revision of the geologic time scale could be accepted by conventional scientists.
Geochronologists do not claim that radiometric dating is foolproof no scientific method is , but it does work reliably for most samples. It is these highly consistent and reliable samples, rather than the tricky ones, that have to be falsified for "young Earth" theories to have any scientific plausibility, not to mention the need to falsify huge amounts of evidence from other techniques.
This document is partly based on a prior posting composed in reply to Ted Holden. My thanks to both him and other critics for motivating me. Background Stratigraphic Principles and Relative Time Much of the Earth's geology consists of successional layers of different rock types, piled one on top of another. The most common rocks observed in this form are sedimentary rocks derived from what were formerly sediments , and extrusive igneous rocks e.
The layers of rock are known as "strata", and the study of their succession is known as "stratigraphy". Fundamental to stratigraphy are a set of simple principles, based on elementary geometry, empirical observation of the way these rocks are deposited today, and gravity. A few principles were recognized and specified later. An early summary of them is found in Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology , published in , and does not differ greatly from a modern formulation: The principle of superposition - in a vertical sequence of sedimentary or volcanic rocks, a higher rock unit is younger than a lower one.
The principle of original horizontality - rock layers were originally deposited close to horizontal. The principle of original lateral extension - A rock unit continues laterally unless there is a structure or change to prevent its extension. The principle of cross-cutting relationships - a structure that cuts another is younger than the structure that is cut. The principle of inclusion - a structure that is included in another is older than the including structure.
The principle of "uniformitarianism" - processes operating in the past were constrained by the same "laws of physics" as operate today. Note that these are principles. In no way are they meant to imply there are no exceptions.
For example, the principle of superposition is based, fundamentally, on gravity. In order for a layer of material to be deposited, something has to be beneath it to support it.
It can't float in mid-air, particularly if the material involved is sand, mud, or molten rock. The principle of superposition therefore has a clear implication for the relative age of a vertical succession of strata. There are situations where it potentially fails -- for example, in cave deposits. In this situation, the cave contents are younger than both the bedrock below the cave and the suspended roof above. However, note that because of the " principle of cross-cutting relationships" , careful examination of the contact between the cave infill and the surrounding rock will reveal the true relative age relationships, as will the "principle of inclusion" if fragments of the surrounding rock are found within the infill.
Cave deposits also often have distinctive structures of their own e. These geological principles are not assumptions either. Each of them is a testable hypothesis about the relationships between rock units and their characteristics. They are applied by geologists in the same sense that a "null hypothesis" is in statistics -- not necessarily correct, just testable. In the last or more years of their application, they are often valid, but geologists do not assume they are.
They are the "initial working hypotheses" to be tested further by data. Using these principles, it is possible to construct an interpretation of the sequence of events for any geological situation, even on other planets e.
The simplest situation for a geologist is a "layer cake" succession of sedimentary or extrusive igneous rock units arranged in nearly horizontal layers. In such a situation, the " principle of superposition" is easily applied, and the strata towards the bottom are older, those towards the top are younger.
Sedimentary beds in outcrop, a graphical plot of a stratigraphic section, and a "way up" indicator example: For example, wave ripples have their pointed crests on the "up" side, and more rounded troughs on the "down" side. Many other indicators are commonly present, including ones that can even tell you the angle of the depositional surface at the time "geopetal structures" , "assuming" that gravity was "down" at the time, which isn't much of an assumption: In more complicated situations, like in a mountain belt, there are often faults, folds, and other structural complications that have deformed and "chopped up" the original stratigraphy.
Despite this, the "principle of cross cutting relationships" can be used to determine the sequence of deposition, folds, and faults based on their intersections -- if folds and faults deform or cut across the sedimentary layers and surfaces, then they obviously came after deposition of the sediments. You can't deform a structure e. Even in complex situations of multiple deposition, deformation, erosion, deposition, and repeated events, it is possible to reconstruct the sequence of events.
Even if the folding is so intense that some of the strata is now upside down, this fact can be recognized with "way up" indicators. No matter what the geologic situation, these basic principles reliably yield a reconstructed history of the sequence of events, both depositional, erosional, deformational, and others, for the geology of a region.
This reconstruction is tested and refined as new field information is collected, and can be and often is done completely independently of anything to do with other methods e. The reconstructed history of events forms a "relative time scale", because it is possible to tell that event A occurred prior to event B, which occurred prior to event C, regardless of the actual duration of time between them.
Sometimes this study is referred to as "event stratigraphy", a term that applies regardless of the type of event that occurs biologic, sedimentologic, environmental, volcanic, magnetic, diagenetic, tectonic, etc.
These simple techniques have widely and successfully applied since at least the early s, and by the early s, geologists had recognized that many obvious similarities existed in terms of the independently-reconstructed sequence of geologic events observed in different parts of the world. One of the earliest relative time scales based upon this observation was the subdivision of the Earth's stratigraphy and therefore its history , into the "Primary", "Secondary", "Tertiary", and later "Quaternary" strata based mainly on characteristic rock types in Europe.
The latter two subdivisions, in an emended form, are still used today by geologists. The earliest, "Primary" is somewhat similar to the modern Paleozoic and Precambrian, and the "Secondary" is similar to the modern Mesozoic. Another observation was the similarity of the fossils observed within the succession of strata, which leads to the next topic. Biostratigraphy As geologists continued to reconstruct the Earth's geologic history in the s and early s, they quickly recognized that the distribution of fossils within this history was not random -- fossils occurred in a consistent order.
This was true at a regional, and even a global scale. Furthermore, fossil organisms were more unique than rock types, and much more varied, offering the potential for a much more precise subdivision of the stratigraphy and events within it. The recognition of the utility of fossils for more precise "relative dating" is often attributed to William Smith, a canal engineer who observed the fossil succession while digging through the rocks of southern England.
But scientists like Albert Oppel hit upon the same principles at about about the same time or earlier. In Smith's case, by using empirical observations of the fossil succession, he was able to propose a fine subdivision of the rocks and map out the formations of southern England in one of the earliest geological maps Other workers in the rest of Europe, and eventually the rest of the world, were able to compare directly to the same fossil succession in their areas, even when the rock types themselves varied at finer scale.
For example, everywhere in the world, trilobites were found lower in the stratigraphy than marine reptiles. Dinosaurs were found after the first occurrence of land plants, insects, and amphibians. Spore-bearing land plants like ferns were always found before the occurrence of flowering plants.
The observation that fossils occur in a consistent succession is known as the "principle of faunal and floral succession". The study of the succession of fossils and its application to relative dating is known as "biostratigraphy". Each increment of time in the stratigraphy could be characterized by a particular assemblage of fossil organisms, formally termed a biostratigraphic "zone" by the German paleontologists Friedrich Quenstedt and Albert Oppel.
These zones could then be traced over large regions, and eventually globally. Groups of zones were used to establish larger intervals of stratigraphy, known as geologic "stages" and geologic "systems".
The time corresponding to most of these intervals of rock became known as geologic "ages" and "periods", respectively. By the end of the s, most of the presently-used geologic periods had been established based on their fossil content and their observed relative position in the stratigraphy e. These terms were preceded by decades by other terms for various geologic subdivisions, and although there was subsequent debate over their exact boundaries e.
By the s, fossil succession had been studied to an increasing degree, such that the broad history of life on Earth was well understood, regardless of the debate over the names applied to portions of it, and where exactly to make the divisions.
All paleontologists recognized unmistakable trends in morphology through time in the succession of fossil organisms.