Radiometric age dating techniques

Radiometric dating is used to estimate the age of rocks and other objects based on the fixed decay rate of radioactive isotopes. Learn about half-life and how it is used in different dating methods, such as uranium-lead dating and radiocarbon dating, in this video lesson.
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These substances will then fall to the lower portion of the magma chamber, where it is hotter, and remelt. This will make the composition of the magma different at the top and bottom of the chamber. This could influence radiometric dates. This mechanism was suggested by Jon Covey and others. The solubility of various substances in the magma also could be a function of temperature, and have an influence on the composition of the magma at the top and bottom of the magma chamber.

Finally, minerals that crystallize at the top of the chamber and fall may tend to incorporate other substances, and so these other substances will also tend to have a change in concentration from the top to the bottom of the magma chamber. There are quite a number of mechanisms in operation in a magma chamber. I count at least three so far -- sorting by density, sorting by melting point, and sorting by how easily something is incorporated into minerals that form at the top of a magma chamber. Then you have to remember that sometimes one has repeated melting and solidification, introducing more complications.

There is also a fourth mechanism -- differences in solubilities. How anyone can keep track of this all is a mystery to me, especially with the difficulties encountered in exploring magma chambers. These will be definite factors that will change relative concentrations of parent and daughter isotopes in some way, and call into question the reliability of radiometric dating.

In fact, I think this is a very telling argument against radiometric dating. Another possibility to keep in mind is that lead becomes gaseous at low temperatures, and would be gaseous in magma if it were not for the extreme pressures deep in the earth. It also becomes very mobile when hot. These processes could influence the distribution of lead in magma chambers.

Let me suggest how these processes could influence uranium-lead and thorium-lead dates: The following is a quote from The Earth: The magnesium and iron rich minerals come from the mantle subducted oceanic plates , while granite comes from continental sediments crustal rock. The mantle part solidifies first, and is rich in magnesium, iron, and calcium. So it is reasonable to expect that initially, the magma is rich in iron, magnesium, and calcium and poor in uranium, thorium, sodium, and potassium. Later on the magma is poor in iron, magnesium, and calcium and rich in uranium, thorium, sodium, and potassium.

It doesn't say which class lead is in. But lead is a metal, and to me it looks more likely that lead would concentrate along with the iron. If this is so, the magma would initially be poor in thorium and uranium and rich in lead, and as it cooled it would become rich in thorium and uranium and poor in lead. Thus its radiometric age would tend to decrease rapidly with time, and lava emitted later would tend to look younger. Another point is that of time. Suppose that the uranium does come to the top by whatever reason. Perhaps magma that is uranium rich tends to be lighter than other magma.

Or maybe the uranium poor rocks crystallize out first and the remaining magma is enriched in uranium. Would this cause trouble for our explanation? It depends how fast it happened. Some information from the book Uranium Geochemistry, Mineralogy, Geology provided by Jon Covey gives us evidence that fractionation processes are making radiometric dates much, much too old. The half life of U is 4. Thus radium is decaying 3 million times as fast as U At equilibrium, which should be attained in , years for this decay series, we should expect to have 3 million times as much U as radium to equalize the amount of daughter produced.

Cortini says geologists discovered that ten times more Ra than the equilibrium value was present in rocks from Vesuvius. They found similar excess radium at Mount St. Helens, Vulcanello, and Lipari and other volcanic sites. The only place where radioactive equilibrium of the U series exists in zero age lavas is in Hawiian rocks. We need to consider the implications of this for radiometric dating. How is this excess of radium being produced? This radium cannot be the result of decay of uranium, since there is far too much of it.

Either it is the result of an unknown decay process, or it is the result of fractionation which is greatly increasing the concentration of radium or greatly decreasing the concentration of uranium. Thus only a small fraction of the radium present in the lava at most 10 percent is the result of decay of the uranium in the lava.

This is interesting because both radium and lead are daughter products of uranium. If similar fractionation processes are operating for lead, this would mean that only a small fraction of the lead is the result of decay from the parent uranium, implying that the U-Pb radiometric dates are much, much too old. Cortini, in an article appearing in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research also suggests this possibility.

By analogy with the behaviour of Ra, Th and U it can be suggested that Pb, owing to its large mobility, was also fed to the magma by fluids. This can and must be tested. The open-system behaviour of Pb, if true, would have dramatic consequences In fact, U and Th both have isotopes of radium in their decay chains with half lives of a week or two, and 6.

Any process that is concentrating one isotope of radium will probably concentrate the others as well and invalidate these dating methods, too. Radium has a low melting point degrees K which may account for its concentration at the top of magma chambers. What radiometric dating needs to do to show its reliability is to demonstrate that no such fractionation could take place.

Can this be done? With so many unknowns I don't think so. How Uranium and Thorium are preferentially incorporated in various minerals I now give evidences that uranium and thorium are incorporated into some minerals more than others. This is not necessarily a problem for radiometric dating, because it can be taken into account.

Radiometric Dating

But as we saw above, processes that take place within magma chambers involving crystallization could result in a different concentration of uranium and thorium at the top of a magma chamber than at the bottom. This can happen because different minerals incorporate different amounts of uranium and thorium, and these different minerals also have different melting points and different densities. If minerals that crystallize at the top of a magma chamber and fall, tend to incorporate a lot of uranium, this will tend to deplete uranium at the top of the magma chamber, and make the magma there look older.

Concerning the distribution of parent and daughter isotopes in various substances, there are appreciable differences. Faure shows that in granite U is 4. Some process is causing the differences in the ratios of these magmatic rocks. Depending on their oxidation state, according to Faure, uranium minerals can be very soluble in water while thorium compounds are, generally, very insoluble.

These elements also show preferences for the minerals in which they are incorporated, so that they will tend to be "dissolved" in certain mineral "solutions" preferentially to one another. More U is found in carbonate rocks, while Th has a very strong preference for granites in comparison. I saw a reference that uranium reacts strongly, and is never found pure in nature.

So the question is what the melting points of its oxides or salts would be, I suppose. I also saw a statement that uranium is abundant in the crust, but never found in high concentrations. To me this indicates a high melting point for its minerals, as those with a low melting point might be expected to concentrate in the magma remaining after others crystallized out. Such a high melting point would imply fractionation in the magma. Thorium is close to uranium in the periodic table, so it may have similar properties, and similar remarks may apply to it.

It turns out that uranium in magma is typically found in the form of uranium dioxide, with a melting point of degrees centrigrade. This high melting point suggests that uranium would crystallize and fall to the bottom of magma chambers. Geologists are aware of the problem of initial concentration of daughter elements, and attempt to take it into account. U-Pb dating attempts to get around the lack of information about initial daughter concentrations by the choice of minerals that are dated. For example, zircons are thought to accept little lead but much uranium. Thus geologists assume that the lead in zircons resulted from radioactive decay.

But I don't know how they can be sure how much lead zircons accept, and even they admit that zircons accept some lead. Lead could easily reside in impurities and imperfections in the crystal structure. Also, John Woodmorappe's paper has some examples of anomalies involving zircons. It is known that the crystal structure of zircons does not accept much lead.

However, it is unrealistic to expect a pure crystal to form in nature. Perfect crystals are very rare. In reality, I would expect that crystal growth would be blocked locally by various things, possibly particles in the way. Then the surrounding crystal surface would continue to grow and close up the gap, incorporating a tiny amount of magma.

I even read something about geologists trying to choose crystals without impurities by visual examination when doing radiometric dating. Thus we can assume that zircons would incorporate some lead in their impurities, potentially invalidating uranium-lead dates obtained from zircons. Chemical fractionation, as we have seen, calls radiometric dates into question. But this cannot explain the distribution of lead isotopes. There are actually several isotopes of lead that are produced by different parent substances uranium , uranium , and thorium. One would not expect there to be much difference in the concentration of lead isotopes due to fractionation, since isotopes have properties that are very similar.

So one could argue that any variations in Pb ratios would have to result from radioactive decay. However, the composition of lead isotopes between magma chambers could still differ, and lead could be incorporated into lava as it traveled to the surface from surrounding materials. I also recall reading that geologists assume the initial Pb isotope ratios vary from place to place anyway. Later we will see that mixing of two kinds of magma, with different proportions of lead isotopes, could also lead to differences in concentrations.

Mechanism of uranium crystallization and falling through the magma We now consider in more detail the process of fractionation that can cause uranium to be depleted at the top of magma chambers. Uranium and thorium have high melting points and as magma cools, these elements crystallize out of solution and fall to the magma chamber's depths and remelt. This process is known as fractional crystallization. What this does is deplete the upper parts of the chamber of uranium and thorium, leaving the radiogenic lead. As this material leaves, that which is first out will be high in lead and low in parent isotopes.

This will date oldest. Magma escaping later will date younger because it is enriched in U and Th. There will be a concordance or agreement in dates obtained by these seemingly very different dating methods. This mechanism was suggested by Jon Covey. Tarbuck and Lutgens carefully explain the process of fractional crystallization in The Earth: An Introduction to Physical Geology.

They show clear drawings of crystallized minerals falling through the magma and explain that the crystallized minerals do indeed fall through the magma chamber. Further, most minerals of uranium and thorium are denser than other minerals, especially when those minerals are in the liquid phase. Crystalline solids tend to be denser than liquids from which they came.

But the degree to which they are incorporated in other minerals with high melting points might have a greater influence, since the concentrations of uranium and thorium are so low. Now another issue is simply the atomic weight of uranium and thorium, which is high. Any compound containing them is also likely to be heavy and sink to the bottom relative to others, even in a liquid form.

If there is significant convection in the magma, this would be minimized, however. At any rate, there will be some effects of this nature that will produce some kinds of changes in concentration of uranium and thorium relative to lead from the top to the bottom of a magma chamber. Some of the patterns that are produced may appear to give valid radiometric dates. The latter may be explained away due to various mechanisms. Let us consider processes that could cause uranium and thorium to be incorporated into minerals with a high melting point.

I read that zircons absorb uranium, but not much lead. Thus they are used for U-Pb dating. But many minerals take in a lot of uranium. It is also known that uranium is highly reactive. To me this suggests that it is eager to give up its 2 outer electrons. This would tend to produce compounds with a high dipole moment, with a positive charge on uranium and a negative charge on the other elements. This would in turn tend to produce a high melting point, since the atoms would attract one another electrostatically.

I'm guessing a little bit here. There are a number of uranium compounds with different melting points, and in general it seems that the ones with the highest melting points are more stable. I would suppose that in magma, due to reactions, most of the uranium would end up in the most stable compounds with the highest melting points.

These would also tend to have high dipole moments. Now, this would also help the uranium to be incorporated into other minerals. The electric charge distribution would create an attraction between the uranium compound and a crystallizing mineral, enabling uranium to be incorporated. But this would be less so for lead, which reacts less strongly, and probably is not incorporated so easily into minerals. So in the minerals crystallizing at the top of the magma, uranium would be taken in more than lead. These minerals would then fall to the bottom of the magma chamber and thus uranium at the top would be depleted.

It doesn't matter if these minerals are relatively lighter than others. The point is that they are heavier than the magma. Two kinds of magma and implications for radiometric dating It turns out that magma has two sources, ocean plates and material from the continents crustal rock. This fact has profound implications for radiometric dating. Mantle material is very low in uranium and thorium, having only 0. The source of magma for volcanic activity is subducted oceanic plates.

Subduction means that these plates are pushed under the continents by motions of the earth's crust. While oceanic plates are basaltic mafic originating from the mid-oceanic ridges due to partial melting of mantle rock, the material that is magma is a combination of oceanic plate material and continental sediments. Subducted oceanic plates begin to melt when they reach depths of about kilometers See Tarbuck, The Earth, p.

In other words, mantle is not the direct source of magma. Further, Faure explains that uraninite UO sub2 is a component of igneous rocks Faure, p. Uraninite is also known as pitchblende. According to plate tectonic theory, continental crust overrides oceanic crust when these plates collide because the continental crust is less dense than the ocean floor. As the ocean floor sinks, it encounters increasing pressures and temperatures within the crust. Ultimately, the pressures and temperatures are so high that the rocks in the subducted oceanic crust melt. Once the rocks melt, a plume of molten material begins to rise in the crust.

As the plume rises it melts and incorporates other crustal rocks. This rising body of magma is an open system with respect to the surrounding crustal rocks. Uranium-lead dating can be used to find the age of a uranium-containing mineral. Uranium decays to lead, and uranium decays to lead The two uranium isotopes decay at different rates, and this helps make uranium-lead dating one of the most reliable methods because it provides a built-in cross-check.

Additional methods of radiometric dating, such as potassium-argon dating and rubidium-strontium dating , exist based on the decay of those isotopes. Radiocarbon dating is a method used to determine the age of organic material by measuring the radioactivity of its carbon content. With radiocarbon dating, we see that carbon decays to nitrogen and has a half-life of 5, years. To unlock this lesson you must be a Study. Did you know… We have over college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1, colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree.

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Radiometric dating - Wikipedia

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What teachers are saying about Study. Conditions of Fossil Preservation: Are you still watching? Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds. Add to Add to Add to. Want to watch this again later? What is Radioactive Dating? Principles of Radiometric Dating. Relative Dating with Fossils: Index Fossils as Indicators of Time. Methods of Geological Dating: Numerical and Relative Dating. What is Relative Dating? What is the Age of the Solar System? Absolute Time in Geology. What is Carbon Dating?

Radiometric Dating 101

Methods for Determining Past Climates. Introduction to Physical Geology: Intro to Natural Sciences. Middle School Earth Science: Weather and Climate Science: UExcel Weather and Climate: Guns, Germs, and Steel Study Guide. Holt McDougal Introduction to Geography: Radiometric dating is used to estimate the age of rocks and other objects based on the fixed decay rate of radioactive isotopes. Radiometric Dating The aging process in human beings is easy to see. Radioactive Decay The methods work because radioactive elements are unstable, and they are always trying to move to a more stable state.

Half-Life So, what exactly is this thing called a half-life? Uranium-Lead Dating There are different methods of radiometric dating that will vary due to the type of material that is being dated. So some analytical limitations can be the beam intensity, counting statistics, dead-time and so on. These are parameters you can control and will affect how accurate and precise your age-dating is.

Radiometric Dating: Methods, Uses & the Significance of Half-Life

Don't worry what those parameters mean, just understand they are machine-based. Natural limitations encompass those as a result of nature. For example, you may want to date the same zircon crystals using the U-Pb method. In order to do this, you need to measure various isotopes of uranium U and lead Pb. Though, when you come to do this measurement you find that uranium concentrations are very low in your sample on the order of a few parts per million. This low concentration will mean your counting statistics will not be as robust and may result in decreased precision. Another limitation is the length of time a decay series can be used for.

Another example, you may want to use. Lets say the object is a million years old but as the scientist measuring this object we don't know that and we go to measure it using the C method. The age we come up with is around 50 years old. The reason it isn't 1 million year old is because the half-life of C is about 5 years, which means after about 50 years there is no more C to measure, hence the limit of that dating technique is about 50 years.