The Age of the Earth

Radioactive dating is a method of dating rocks and minerals using radioactive isotopes. This method is useful for igneous and metamorphic rocks, which cannot be dated by the stratigraphic correlation method used for sedimentary rocks. Over naturally-occurring isotopes are known. Some do not change with time and form stable isotopes i. The unstable or more commonly known radioactive isotopes break down by radioactive decay into other isotopes. Radioactive decay is a natural process and comes from the atomic nucleus becoming unstable and releasing bits and pieces. These are released as radioactive particles there are many types.

Age of Earth

How Old is That Rock? How can you tell the age of a rock or to which geologic time period it belongs? One way is to look at any fossils the rock may contain. If any of the fossils are unique to one of the geologic time periods, then the rock was formed during that particular time period. Another way is to use the “What’s on top?

When you find layers of rocks in a cliff or hillside, younger rocks are on top of older rocks.

The Earth’s magnetic field experiences reversals such that north becomes radiometric dating of these zircons using the uranium-lead method.

Lead isotopes are commonly used in dating rocks and provide some of the best evidence for the Earth’s age. In order to be used as a natural clock to calculate the age of the earth, the processes generating lead isotopes must meet the four conditions of a natural clock: an irreversible process, a uniform rate, an initial condition, and a final condition. Dalrymple cites examples of lead isotope dating that give an age for the earth of about 4.

Lead isotopes are important because two different lead isotopes Pb and Pb are produced from the decay series of two different uranium isotopes U and U. Since both decay series contain a unique set of intermediate radioactive isotopes, and because each has its own half-life, independent age calculations can be made from each Dalrymple The presence of a stable lead isotope that is not the product of any decay series Pb allows lead isotopes to be normalized, allowing for the use of isochrons and concordia-discordia diagrams as dating tools.

Two other characteristics of lead isotope measurements make it superior to other methods.


Uranium-lead dating computes the age of the earth at 4. It is one of the oldest and most refined radiometric dating schemes, with a routine age range of about 1 million years to over 4. The method relies on the coupled chronometer provided by the decay of U to Pb, with a half-life of 4. One of the advantages of uranium-lead dating is the two separate, chemically identical chronometers and is accepted as the most reliable measurement of the age of the Earth.

Loss leakage of lead within the sample will result in a discrepancy in the two decay schemes, resulting in a different age determined by each decay scheme. This effect is referred to as discordance, and provides a check on the reliability of the age.

Calculations of Earth’s age using radioactive decay showed that Earth is Uranium-lead dating can be used to date igneous rocks from 1 million years to.

A light-colored flowstone deposit lies atop lithified red sediments in a South African cave where hominin fossils were found. Researchers dated such flowstones to constrain the ages of fossils found in adjacent sedimentary layers. Credit: Robyn Pickering. Robyn Pickering was taught as an undergraduate about a collection of limestone caves in northern South Africa known collectively as the Cradle of Humankind for the trove of early hominin fossils discovered there.

She learned that, unlike hominin fossils unearthed in East Africa, whose ages have been constrained by dating the surrounding layers of volcanic ash, the fossils in the Cradle — including well-preserved specimens of Australopithecus africanus and the recently discovered Homo naledi , among others — were impossible to date independently. Now, Pickering , an isotope geochemist at the University of Cape Town, and her colleagues have figured out a way to date the South African fossils after all.

In a recent study published in Nature, the researchers report ages for flowstones — horizontal deposits of calcium carbonate that form natural cements on cave floors — across eight caves in the Cradle of Humankind. The flowstones sandwich fossil-bearing sediment layers, allowing age ranges for the fossils to be determined. Previously, the ages of hominin fossils found in the South African caves were estimated by comparing animal bones found nearby to similar-looking ones in East Africa whose ages had been reliably determined.

This kind of relative dating comes with more uncertainty and relies upon an assumption that evolution in East Africa was occurring at the same time and rate as it was in South Africa, according to Bernard Wood , a paleoanthropologist at George Washington University in Washington, D.

Radioactive Dating

In , shortly after the discovery of radioactivity , the American chemist Bertram Boltwood suggested that lead is one of the disintegration products of uranium, in which case the older a uranium-bearing mineral the greater should be its proportional part of lead. Analyzing specimens whose relative geologic ages were known, Boltwood found that the ratio of lead to uranium did indeed increase with age.

After estimating the rate of this radioactive change, he calculated that the absolute ages of his specimens ranged from million to 2.

Radiometric dating is the process of determining the age of rocks from the decay of their Potassium is an abundant element in the Earth’s crust. One isotope The uranium-lead method is the longest-used dating method. It was first used in.

It is an accurate way to date specific geologic events. This is an enormous branch of geochemistry called Geochronology. There are many radiometric clocks and when applied to appropriate materials, the dating can be very accurate. As one example, the first minerals to crystallize condense from the hot cloud of gasses that surrounded the Sun as it first became a star have been dated to plus or minus 2 million years!!

That is pretty accurate!!! Other events on earth can be dated equally well given the right minerals. For example, a problem I have worked on involving the eruption of a volcano at what is now Naples, Italy, occurred years ago with a plus or minus of years. Yes, radiometric dating is a very accurate way to date the Earth. We know it is accurate because radiometric dating is based on the radioactive decay of unstable isotopes. For example, the element Uranium exists as one of several isotopes, some of which are unstable.

When an unstable Uranium U isotope decays, it turns into an isotope of the element Lead Pb. We call the original, unstable isotope Uranium the “parent”, and the product of decay Lead the “daughter”. From careful physics and chemistry experiments, we know that parents turn into daughters at a very consistent, predictable rate.

How Old Is Earth?

The discovery of the radioactive properties of uranium in by Henri Becquerel subsequently revolutionized the way scientists measured the age of artifacts and supported the theory that the earth was considerably older than what some scientists believed. There are several methods of determining the actual or relative age of the earth’s crust: examination of fossil remains of plants and animals, relating the magnetic field of ancient days to the current magnetic field of the earth, and examination of artifacts from past civilizations.

However, one of the most widely used and accepted method is radioactive dating. All radioactive dating is based on the fact that a radioactive substance, through its characteristic disintegration, eventually transmutes into a stable nuclide. When the rate of decay of a radioactive substance is known, the age of a specimen can be determined from the relative proportions of the remaining radioactive material and the product of its decay.

In , the American chemist Bertram Boltwood demonstrated that he could determine the age of a rock containing uranium and thereby proved to the scientific community that radioactive dating was a reliable method.

To date the flowstones, Pickering and her team applied uranium-lead dating, a technique that is typically used to date rocks that are hundreds.

You may have heard that the Earth is 4. This was calculated by taking precise measurements of things in the dirt and in meteorites and using the principles of radioactive decay to determine an age. This page will show you how that was done. Radioactive nuclides decay with a half-life. If the half-life of a material is years and you have 1 kg of it, years from now you will only have 0.

The rest will have decayed into a different nuclide called a daughter nuclide.

Clair Patterson’s Early Life and Research

When asked for your age, it’s likely you won’t slip with the exception of a recent birthday mistake. But for the sprawling sphere we call home, age is a much trickier matter. Before so-called radiometric dating, Earth’s age was anybody’s guess. Our planet was pegged at a youthful few thousand years old by Bible readers by counting all the “begats” since Adam as late as the end of the 19th century, with physicist Lord Kelvin providing another nascent estimate of million years.

For centuries scholars sought to determine Earth’s age, but the answer when Archbishop James Ussher of Ireland offered the date of B.C. as the decay of uranium to helium versus its decay to lead) sometimes gave.

Earth’s magnetic field periodically reverses such that the north magnetic pole becomes the south magnetic pole. The latest reversal is called by geologists the Matuyama-Brunhes boundary MBB , and occurred approximately , years ago. The MBB is extremely important for calibrating the ages of rocks and the timing of events that occurred in the geological past; however, the exact age of this event has been imprecise because of uncertainties in the dating methods that have been used.

The team studied volcanic ash that was deposited immediately before the MBB. This volcanic ash contains small crystals called zircons. Some of these crystals formed at the same time as the ash; thus, radiometric dating of these zircons using the uranium-lead method provided the exact age of the ash. To verify their findings, the researchers also used a different method to date sedimentary rock from the same place that was formed at the time of the MBB.

The combined results demonstrate that the age of the MBB is The research has been published in the journal Geology.

RADIOACTIVE AGE ESTIMATION METHODS—Do they prove the Earth is billions of years old?

Both isotopes are the starting points for complex decay series that eventually produce stable isotopes of lead. Uranium-lead dating was applied initially to uranium minerals, e. The amount of radiogenic lead from all these methods must be distinguished from naturally occurring lead, and this is calculated by using the ratio with Pb, which is a stable isotope of the element then, after correcting for original lead, if the mineral has remained in a closed system, the U: Pb and U: Pb ages should agree.

If this is the case, they are concordant and the age determined is most probably the actual age of the specimen. If the ages determined using these two methods do not agree, then they do not fall on this curve and are therefore discordant. This commonly occurs if the system has been heated or otherwise disturbed, causing a loss of some of the lead daughter atoms.

Lead and thallium isotopes provide evidence for losses from the silicate Earth postdating the Age-Dating Based on Stable Lead Isotopes—ALAS Model.

Dating , in geology , determining a chronology or calendar of events in the history of Earth , using to a large degree the evidence of organic evolution in the sedimentary rocks accumulated through geologic time in marine and continental environments. To date past events, processes, formations, and fossil organisms, geologists employ a variety of techniques. These include some that establish a relative chronology in which occurrences can be placed in the correct sequence relative to one another or to some known succession of events.

Radiometric dating and certain other approaches are used to provide absolute chronologies in terms of years before the present. The two approaches are often complementary, as when a sequence of occurrences in one context can be correlated with an absolute chronlogy elsewhere. Local relationships on a single outcrop or archaeological site can often be interpreted to deduce the sequence in which the materials were assembled. This then can be used to deduce the sequence of events and processes that took place or the history of that brief period of time as recorded in the rocks or soil.

Radiometric or Absolute Rock Dating

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