# Relative and radiometric dating of fossils

### Radiometric dating - Wikipedia

This is different to relative dating, which only puts geological events in Most absolute dates for rocks are obtained with radiometric methods. Radiometric dating or radioactive dating is a technique used to date materials such as rocks or it provides a significant source of information about the ages of fossils and the deduced rates of evolutionary change. This predictability allows the relative abundances of related nuclides to be used as a clock to measure. Using relative and radiometric dating methods, geologists are able to answer the question: how old is this fossil?.

This can reduce the problem of contamination. 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.

This temperature is what is known as closure temperature and represents the temperature below which the mineral is a closed system to isotopes. Thus an igneous or metamorphic rock or melt, which is slowly cooling, does not begin to exhibit measurable radioactive decay until it cools below the closure temperature.

The age that can be calculated by radiometric dating is thus the time at which the rock or mineral cooled to closure temperature. This field is known as thermochronology or thermochronometry. The age is calculated from the slope of the isochron line and the original composition from the intercept of the isochron with the y-axis. The equation is most conveniently expressed in terms of the measured quantity N t rather than the constant initial value No. The above equation makes use of information on the composition of parent and daughter isotopes at the time the material being tested cooled below its closure temperature.

This is well-established for most isotopic systems. Plotting an isochron is used to solve the age equation graphically and calculate the age of the sample and the original composition. Modern dating methods[ edit ] Radiometric dating has been carried out since when it was invented by Ernest Rutherford as a method by which one might determine the age of the Earth.

In the century since then the techniques have been greatly improved and expanded. The mass spectrometer was invented in the s and began to be used in radiometric dating in the s. It operates by generating a beam of ionized atoms from the sample under test. The ions then travel through a magnetic field, which diverts them into different sampling sensors, known as " Faraday cups ", depending on their mass and level of ionization.

On impact in the cups, the ions set up a very weak current that can be measured to determine the rate of impacts and the relative concentrations of different atoms in the beams.

Uranium—lead dating method[ edit ] Main article: Uranium—lead dating A concordia diagram as used in uranium—lead datingwith data from the Pfunze BeltZimbabwe.

This scheme has been refined to the point that the error margin in dates of rocks can be as low as less than two million years in two-and-a-half billion years. Zircon has a very high closure temperature, is resistant to mechanical weathering and is very chemically inert. Zircon also forms multiple crystal layers during metamorphic events, which each may record an isotopic age of the event.

This can be seen in the concordia diagram, where the samples plot along an errorchron straight line which intersects the concordia curve at the age of the sample. Samarium—neodymium dating method[ edit ] Main article: Samarium—neodymium dating This involves the alpha decay of Sm to Nd with a half-life of 1.

### Chapter 8: Fossils and Their Place in Time and Nature | Our Origins, 2e: W. W. Norton StudySpace

Accuracy levels of within twenty million years in ages of two-and-a-half billion years are achievable. Potassium—argon dating This involves electron capture or positron decay of potassium to argon Potassium has a half-life of 1. Rubidium—strontium dating method[ edit ] Main article: Rubidium—strontium dating This is based on the beta decay of rubidium to strontiumwith a half-life of 50 billion years. This scheme is used to date old igneous and metamorphic rocksand has also been used to date lunar samples.

Closure temperatures are so high that they are not a concern. Rubidium-strontium dating is not as precise as the uranium-lead method, with errors of 30 to 50 million years for a 3-billion-year-old sample. Uranium—thorium dating method[ edit ] Main article: Uranium—thorium dating A relatively short-range dating technique is based on the decay of uranium into thorium, a substance with a half-life of about 80, years.

It is accompanied by a sister process, in which uranium decays into protactinium, which has a half-life of 32, years. While uranium is water-soluble, thorium and protactinium are not, and so they are selectively precipitated into ocean-floor sedimentsfrom which their ratios are measured.

The scheme has a range of several hundred thousand years. A related method is ionium—thorium datingwhich measures the ratio of ionium thorium to thorium in ocean sediment. Radiocarbon dating method[ edit ] Main article: Carbon is a radioactive isotope of carbon, with a half-life of 5, years, [25] [26] which is very short compared with the above isotopes and decays into nitrogen.

Carbon, though, is continuously created through collisions of neutrons generated by cosmic rays with nitrogen in the upper atmosphere and thus remains at a near-constant level on Earth.

So, how do we know how old a fossil is? There are two main methods determining a fossils age, relative dating and absolute dating. Relative dating is used to determine a fossils approximate age by comparing it to similar rocks and fossils of known ages.

Absolute dating is used to determine a precise age of a fossil by using radiometric dating to measure the decay of isotopes, either within the fossil or more often the rocks associated with it.

Relative Dating The majority of the time fossils are dated using relative dating techniques. Using relative dating the fossil is compared to something for which an age is already known. For example if you have a fossil trilobite and it was found in the Wheeler Formation.

## Radiometric dating

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.

- Fossils and Their Place in Time and Nature
- Dating Fossils – How Are Fossils Dated?

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.