Uranium series dating fossils and rocks

Fossil dating expert to launch new uranium-series laboratory | Faculty of Science

uranium series dating fossils and rocks

Could you also please explain further what radiometric dating is and the process Uranium-Lead, Lutetium-Halfnium, Potassium-Argon) on the same rock, and they all . occurring elements that have been incorporated into rocks and fossils. Radiometric dating is used to estimate the age of rocks and other Relative Dating with Fossils: Index Fossils as Indicators of Time . The uranium to lead decay series is marked by a half-life of million years. How are fossils and other findings analyzed in Kenya's Turkana Basin? field of paleontology often uses a potassium-argon dating technique.

Radioactive decay[ edit ] Example of a radioactive decay chain from lead Pb to lead Pb.

uranium series dating fossils and rocks

The final decay product, lead Pbis stable and can no longer undergo spontaneous radioactive decay. All ordinary matter is made up of combinations of chemical elementseach with its own atomic numberindicating the number of protons in the atomic nucleus.

Additionally, elements may exist in different isotopeswith each isotope of an element differing in the number of neutrons in the nucleus. A particular isotope of a particular element is called a nuclide.

Some nuclides are inherently unstable. That is, at some point in time, an atom of such a nuclide will undergo radioactive decay and spontaneously transform into a different nuclide. This transformation may be accomplished in a number of different ways, including alpha decay emission of alpha particles and beta decay electron emission, positron emission, or electron capture. Another possibility is spontaneous fission into two or more nuclides. While the moment in time at which a particular nucleus decays is unpredictable, a collection of atoms of a radioactive nuclide decays exponentially at a rate described by a parameter known as the half-lifeusually given in units of years when discussing dating techniques.

After one half-life has elapsed, one half of the atoms of the nuclide in question will have decayed into a "daughter" nuclide or decay product.

Radiometric dating - Wikipedia

In many cases, the daughter nuclide itself is radioactive, resulting in a decay chaineventually ending with the formation of a stable nonradioactive daughter nuclide; each step in such a chain is characterized by a distinct half-life. In these cases, usually the half-life of interest in radiometric dating is the longest one in the chain, which is the rate-limiting factor in the ultimate transformation of the radioactive nuclide into its stable daughter. Isotopic systems that have been exploited for radiometric dating have half-lives ranging from only about 10 years e.

It is not affected by external factors such as temperaturepressurechemical environment, or presence of a magnetic or electric field. For all other nuclides, the proportion of the original nuclide to its decay products changes in a predictable way as the original nuclide decays over time.

This predictability allows the relative abundances of related nuclides to be used as a clock to measure the time from the incorporation of the original nuclides into a material to the present. Accuracy of radiometric dating[ edit ] Thermal ionization mass spectrometer used in radiometric dating. The basic equation of radiometric dating requires that neither the parent nuclide nor the daughter product can enter or leave the material after its formation.

The possible confounding effects of contamination of parent and daughter isotopes have to be considered, as do the effects of any loss or gain of such isotopes since the sample was created. It is therefore essential to have as much information as possible about the material being dated and to check for possible signs of alteration.

Alternatively, if several different minerals can be dated from the same sample and are assumed to be formed by the same event and were in equilibrium with the reservoir when they formed, they should form an isochron. This can reduce the problem of contamination.

uranium series dating fossils and rocks

In uranium—lead datingthe concordia diagram is used which also decreases the problem of nuclide loss. Finally, correlation between different isotopic dating methods may be required to confirm the age of a sample. For example, the age of the Amitsoq gneisses from western Greenland was determined to be 3.

The procedures used to isolate and analyze the parent and daughter nuclides must be precise and accurate. This normally involves isotope-ratio mass spectrometry. 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.

Closure temperature If a material that selectively rejects the daughter nuclide is heated, any daughter nuclides that have been accumulated over time will be lost through diffusionsetting the isotopic "clock" to zero. The temperature at which this happens is known as the closure temperature or blocking temperature and is specific to a particular material and isotopic system.

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

Radiometric dating

For example if you have a fossil trilobite and it was found in the Wheeler Formation. The Wheeler Formation has been previously dated to approximately million year old, so we know the trilobite is also about million years old. Scientists can use certain types of fossils referred to as index fossils to assist in relative dating via correlation.

Index fossils are fossils that are known to only occur within a very specific age range. Typically commonly occurring fossils that had a widespread geographic distribution such as brachiopods, trilobites, and ammonites work best as index fossils.

If the fossil you are trying to date occurs alongside one of these index fossils, then the fossil you are dating must fall into the age range of the index fossil. Sometimes multiple index fossils can be used.

In a hypothetical example, a rock formation contains fossils of a type of brachiopod known to occur between and million years. The same rock formation also contains a type of trilobite that was known to live to million years ago. Since the rock formation contains both types of fossils the ago of the rock formation must be in the overlapping date range of to million years.


Studying the layers of rock or strata can also be useful. I do think that radiometric dating is an accurate way to date the earth, although I am a geochronologist so I have my biases.

Most estimates of the age of the earth come from dating meteorites that have fallen to Earth because we think that they formed in our solar nebula very close to the time that the earth formed. The fact that the age we calculate is reproducible for these different systems is significant. We have also obtained a very similar age by measuring Pb isotopes in materials from earth. I should mention that the decay constants basically a value that indicates how fast a certain radioactive isotope will decay for some of these isotope systems were calculated by assuming that the age of the earth is 4.

The decay constants for most of these systems have been confirmed in other ways, adding strength to our argument for the age of the earth.

uranium series dating fossils and rocks

Radiometric dating depends on the chemistry and ratios of different elements. It works like this: Take, for example, zircon, which is a mineral; its chemical formula is ZiSiO4, so there is one zirconium Zi for one silicon Si for four oxygen O. One of the elements that can stand in chemically for zircon is uranium. Uranium eventually decays into lead, and lead does not normally occur in zircon, except as the radioactive decay product of uranium. Therefore, by measuring the ratio of lead to uranium in a crystal of zircon, you can tell how much uranium there originally was in the crystal, which, combined with knowing the radioactive half-life of uranium, tells you how old the crystal is.

Obviously, if the substance you are measuring is contaminated, then all you know is the age since contamination, or worse, you don't know anything, because the contamination might be in the opposite direction - suppose, for example, you're looking at radio carbon carbon 14, which is produced in the atmosphere by cosmic rays, and which decays into nitrogen. Since you are exposed to the atmosphere and contain carbon, if you get oils from your skin onto an archeological artifact, then attempting to date it using radio carbon will fail because you are measuring the age of the oils on your skin, not the age of the artifact.

This is why crystals are good for radiometric dating: The oldest crystals on Earth that were formed on Earth are zircon crystals, and are approximately 4. Asteroids in the solar system have been clocked at 4. We assume that the Earth is probably as old as the asteroids, because we believe the solar system to have formed from a collapsing nebula, and that the Earth, being geologically active, has simply destroyed any older zircon crystals that would be its true age, but we can't really be certain.

The building blocks that the Earth is made of, the asteroids are 4. Based on astronomical models of how stars work, we also believe the Sun to be about 4. Radiometric dating is a widely accepted technique that measures the rate of decay of naturally occurring elements that have been incorporated into rocks and fossils. Every element is defined by the particular number of protons, neutrons, and electrons that make up it's atoms.

Sometimes, the number of neutrons within the atom is off. These atoms, with an odd number of neutrons, are called isotopes.