# Radiometric Dating: Definition, How Does It Work, Uses & Examples

The following graph illustrates radioactive decay of a fixed amount of an isotope. You can see how the proportions of the isotopes from the cartoon above are graphed as percentages at half-lives 0, 1, and 2 below. In geology, anabsolute ageis a quantitative measurement of how old something is, or how long ago it occurred, usually expressed in terms of years. For example, in our sample we used the preponderance of 78 rpm records as an indicator of relative age of a junkyard. Say a Californian lost her entire 1930s jazz collection in the 1993 earthquake, and the broken pieces ended up in a landfill which opened in 1985. Fission track dating was developed in the mid 1960s by three American physicists, who noticed that micrometer-sized damage tracks are created in minerals and glasses that have minimal amounts of uranium.

As you’ve read, there are several different methods of determining site chronology, and they each have their uses. One thing they all have in common, though, is they cannot stand alone. Racemization can be used to date objects between 5,000 and 1,000,000 years old, and was used recently to date the age of sediments at Pakefield, the earliest record of human occupation in northwest Europe. Obsidian hydration uses the rate of rind growth on volcanic glass to determine dates; after a new fracture, a rind covering the new break grows at a constant rate. Dating limitations are physical ones; it takes several centuries for a detectable rind to be created, and rinds over 50 microns tend to crumble. The Obsidian Hydration Laboratory at the University of Auckland, New Zealand describes the method in some detail.

The principle of superposition states that in an undeformed sequence of sedimentary rocks, each layer of rock is older than the one above it and younger than the one below it . Accordingly, the oldest rocks in a sequence are at the bottom and the youngest rocks are at the top. The half-life of an element is the amount of time required for exactly half of a quantity of that element to decay.

Geologists use radiocarbon to date such materials as wood and pollen trapped in sediment, which indicates the date of the sediment itself. This method has been developed as part of paleontology – science concerned with fossils and development of life through geological history. In determining the relative age of a rock, the data from sedimentary rocks are generally used. Relative age of magmatic and metamorphic rocks is determined according to their relation with sedimentary rocks.

However, stratigraphy yields no exact age for those layers or events. Potassium is a common element found in many minerals such as feldspar, mica, and amphibole. The technique can be used to date igneous rocks from 100,000 years to over a billion years old.

Zircon is a mineral that incorporates uranium into its structure at the time of formation. One of the isotopes of uranium decays to lead with a long half-life (see Table 19.2). Zircon is a mineral of choice for dating because it takes no lead into its structure when it forms, so any lead present is due entirely to the radioactive decay of the uranium parent. It can handle exposure to hydrothermal fluids, and all but the highest grades of metamorphism, and not lose any of the parent or daughter isotopes. One drawback is that zircon tends to form only in felsic igneous rocks. Hence if we are trying to date a mafic igneous rock, we must choose a different mineral.

Lake sediments, especially in lakes that are located at the end of glaciers, also have an annual pattern. In the summer, the glacier melts rapidly, producing a thick deposit of sediment. These alternate with thin, clay-rich layers deposited in the winter. The resulting layers, called varves, give scientists clues about past climate conditions . A warm summer might result in a very thick sediment layer while a cooler summer might yield a thinner layer. Scientists have created continuous records of tree rings going back over the past 2,000 years.

## Research Method vs. Research Methodology

Dendrochronology can date the time at which tree rings were formed, in many types of wood, to the exact calendar year. Thermoluminescence testing also dates items to the last time they were 2redbeans heated. This technique is based on the principle that all objects absorb radiation from the environment. This process frees electrons within minerals that remain caught within the item.

At the start time (zero half-lives passed), the sample consists of 100% parent atoms ; there are no daughter products because no time has passed. After the passage of one half-life, 50% of the parent atoms have become daughter products. After two half-lives, 75% of the original parent atoms have been transformed into daughter products (thus, only 25% of the original parent atoms remain).

Radioactive materials decay at known rates, measured as a unit called half-life. The half-life of a radioactive substance is the amount of time it takes for half of the parent atoms to decay. Amino acid dating is a dating technique used to estimate the age of a specimen in paleobiology, archaeology, forensic science, taphonomy, sedimentary geology and other fields.

### Key Equations in Radiometric Dating

Take a look at the diagram to understand their common functions. In chemistry, an element is a particular kind of atom that is defined by the number of protons that it has in its nucleus. Carbon’s atomic number is 6 because it has six protons in its nucleus; gold’s atomic number is 79 because it has 79 atoms in its nucleus.

## Principles of relative dating

Hence geologists never forget their relative age dating principles, and are always applying them in the field to determine the sequence of events that formed the rocks in a region. When discussing decay rates, scientists refer to “half-lives”—the length of time it takes for one-half of the original atom of the radioactive isotope to decay into an atom of a new isotope. Because decay occurs at a fixed rate , scientists can measure the amount of decayed material in the sample, determine the ratio between original and decayed material, and then calculate the sample’s age. Depending on the half-life and the material being dated, various methods are used.

### Amino acid dating

Two or more radiometric methods can be used in concert to achieve more robust results. Most radiometric methods are suitable for geological time only, but some such as the radiocarbon method and the 40Ar/39Ar dating method can be extended into the time of early human life and into recorded history. Originally, fossils only provided us with relative ages because, although early paleontologists understood biological succession, they did not know the absolute ages of the different organisms. It was only in the early part of the 20th century, when isotopic dating methods were first applied, that it became possible to discover the absolute ages of the rocks containing fossils. Relative dating is the science of determining the relative order of past events (i.e., the age of an object in comparison to another), without necessarily determining their absolute age (i.e., estimated age).

Relative dating methods in archaeology are similar to some of those applied in geology. The principles of typology can be compared to the biostratigraphic approach in geology. 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. The book goes on to explain that the tree ring dating could be part of the problem.