Radiometric dating is the determination of the date at which materials were formed by analyzing the decay of radioactive isotopes that were incorporated into the. There are two basic approaches: relative geologic age dating, and But the most accurate forms of absolute age dating are radiometric. Radiometric dating is a technique used to date materials based on a knowledge of the decay rates of naturally occurring isotopes, and the.

But the most accurate forms of absolute age dating are radiometric methods. This method works because some unstable radioactive isotopes of some elements decay at a known rate into daughter products. This rate of decay is called a half-life. Half-life simply means the amount of time it takes for half of a remaining particular isotope to decay to a daughter product.

Good discussion from the US Geological Survey: There are a couple catches, of course.

Not all rocks have radioactive elements. Sedimentary rocks in particular are notoriously radioactive-free zones. So to date those, geologists look for layers like volcanic ash that might be sandwiched between the sedimentary layers, and that tend to have radioactive elements.

You might have noticed that many of the oldest age dates come from a mineral called zircon. Each radioactive isotope works best for particular applications. The half-life of carbon 14, for example, is 5, years.

On the other hand, the half-life of the isotope potassium 40 as it decays to argon is 1. Chart of a few different isotope half lifes: If a rock has been partially melted, or otherwise metamorphosed, that causes complications for radiometric absolute age dating as well. That is, at some point in time, an atom of such a nuclide will spontaneously change into a different nuclide by radioactive decay.

The decay may happen by emission of particles usually electrons beta decaypositrons or alpha particles or by spontaneous nuclear fissionand electron capture. 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 mathematical expression that relates radioactive decay to geologic time is: This equation uses information on the parent and daughter isotopes at the time the material solidified.

This is well known for most isotopic systems. Plotting an isochron straight-line graph is used to solve the age equation graphically.

It shows the age of the sample, and the original composition. It is continuously created through collisions of neutrons generated by cosmic rays with nitrogen in the upper atmosphere.

The carbon ends up as a trace component in atmospheric carbon dioxide CO2. An organism acquires carbon from carbon dioxide during its lifetime.

Plants acquire it through respiration and photosynthesisand animals acquire it from consumption of plants and other animals.

When the organism dies, the carbon begins to decay, and the proportion of carbon left when the remains of the organism are examined provides an indication of the date of its death.

### Radiometric dating Facts for Kids

Carbon radiometric dating has a range of about 50, years. The rate of creation of carbon appears to be roughly constant, as cross-checks of carbon dating with other dating methods show it gives consistent results.

However, local eruptions of volcanoes or other events that give off large amounts of carbon dioxide can reduce local concentrations of carbon and give inaccurate dates. The releases of carbon dioxide into the biosphere as a consequence of industrialization have also depressed the proportion of carbon by a few percent; conversely, the amount of carbon was increased by above-ground nuclear bomb tests that were conducted into the early s.

### Geologic Age Dating Explained - Kids Discover

Also, an increase in the solar wind or the earth's magnetic field above the current value would depress the amount of carbon created in the atmosphere. Another relatively short-range dating technique is based on the decay of uranium into thorium, a process with a half-life of 80, years It is accompanied by a sister process, in which uranium decays into protactinium, which has a half-life of 34, years.

• Geologic Age Dating Explained
• Radiometric dating facts for kids

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. Archaeologists use tree-ring dating dendrochronology to determine the age of old pieces of wood. Trees grow rings on a yearly basis, with the spacing of rings being wider in good growth years than in bad growth years. These spacings can be used to help pin down the age of old wood samples, and also give some hints to climate change.

The technique is only useful to about 4, years in the past, however, because it requires overlapping tree ring series. Although determining geologic time by measuring the rate of deposition of sediments is not reliable over the large scale, it is still useful for certain scenarios, such as the deposition of layers of sediment on the bottom of a stable lake.

The approach is now known as "varve analysis" the term " varve " means a layer or layers of sediment. Another technique used by archaeologists is to inspect the depth of penetration of water vapor into chipped obsidian volcanic glass artifacts. The water vapor creates a "hydration rind" in the obsidian, and so this approach is known as "hydration dating" or "obsidian dating", and is useful for determining dates as far back asyears.

Natural sources of radiation in the environment knock loose electrons in, say, a piece of pottery, and these electron accumulate in defects in the material's crystal lattice structure.

When the sample is heated, at a certain temperature it will glow from the emission of electrons released from the defects, and this glow can be used to estimate the age of the sample to a threshold of a few hundred thousand years.

This is termed thermoluminescence. Finally, "fission track dating" involves inspection of a polished slice of a material to determine the density of "track" markings left in it by radioactive decay of uranium impurities.

The uranium content of the sample has to be known, but that can be determined by placing a plastic film over the polished slice of the material, and bombarding it with slow neutrons.

This causes induced fission of U, as opposed to spontaneous fission of U The fission tracks produced by this process are recorded in the plastic film. The uranium content of the material can then be calculated from the number of tracks and the neutron flux.