# Rubidium 87 radiometric dating for dummies

### Radiometric Dating

Principles of Radiometric Dating . We can measure the present ratios of (87Sr/ 86Sr)t and (87Rb/86Sr)t with a mass spectrometer, thus these. The radioactive decay of rubidium (87Rb) to strontium (87Sr) was the first widely used dating system that utilized the isochron method. Rubidium is a. In the rubidium-strontium method, rubidium decays with is an important type of plot used in rubidium-strontium dating.

See Carbon 14 Dating in this web site. The nuclide rubidium decays, with a half life of Strontium is a stable element; it does not undergo further radioactive decay.

## Radiometric dating

Do not confuse with the highly radioactive isotope, strontium Strontium occurs naturally as a mixture of several nuclides, including the stable isotope strontium If three different strontium-containing minerals form at the same time in the same magma, each strontium containing mineral will have the same ratios of the different strontium nuclides, since all strontium nuclides behave the same chemically. Note that this does not mean that the ratios are the same everywhere on earth.

It merely means that the ratios are the same in the particular magma from which the test sample was later taken. As strontium forms, its ratio to strontium will increase. Strontium is a stable element that does not undergo radioactive change.

In addition, it is not formed as the result of a radioactive decay process. The amount of strontium in a given mineral sample will not change. Therefore the relative amounts of rubidium and strontium can be determined by expressing their ratios to strontium These curves are illustrated in Fig It turns out to be a straight line with a slope of The corresponding half lives for each plotted point are marked on the line and identified. It can be readily seen from the plots that when this procedure is followed with different amounts of Rb87 in different minerals, if the plotted half life points are connected, a straight line going through the origin is produced.

These lines are called "isochrons". The steeper the slope of the isochron, the more half lives it represents. When the fraction of rubidium is plotted against the fraction of strontium for a number of different minerals from the same magma an isochron is obtained.

If the points lie on a straight line, this indicates that the data is consistent and probably accurate. An example of this can be found in Strahler, Fig If the strontium isotope was not present in the mineral at the time it was formed from the molten magma, then the geometry of the plotted isochron lines requires that they all intersect the origin, as shown in figure However, if strontium 87 was present in the mineral when it was first formed from molten magma, that amount will be shown by an intercept of the isochron lines on the y-axis, as shown in Fig Thus it is possible to correct for strontium initially present.

The age of the sample can be obtained by choosing the origin at the y intercept. Note that the amounts of rubidium 87 and strontium 87 are given as ratios to an inert isotope, strontium However, in calculating the ratio of Rb87 to Sr87, we can use a simple analytical geometry solution to the plotted data. Again referring to Fig.

Since the half-life of Rb87 is When properly carried out, radioactive dating test procedures have shown consistent and close agreement among the various methods.

If the same result is obtained sample after sample, using different test procedures based on different decay sequences, and carried out by different laboratories, that is a pretty good indication that the age determinations are accurate.

Of course, test procedures, like anything else, can be screwed up. Mistakes can be made at the time a procedure is first being developed. Creationists seize upon any isolated reports of improperly run tests and try to categorize them as representing general shortcomings of the test procedure. This like saying if my watch isn't running, then all watches are useless for keeping time.

Creationists also attack radioactive dating with the argument that half-lives were different in the past than they are at present. There is no more reason to believe that than to believe that at some time in the past iron did not rust and wood did not burn. Furthermore, astronomical data show that radioactive half-lives in elements in stars billions of light years away is the same as presently measured.

On pages and of The Genesis Flood, creationist authors Whitcomb and Morris present an argument to try to convince the reader that ages of mineral specimens determined by radioactivity measurements are much greater than the "true" i.

The mathematical procedures employed are totally inconsistent with reality. Henry Morris has a PhD in Hydraulic Engineering, so it would seem that he would know better than to author such nonsense. Apparently, he did know better, because he qualifies the exposition in a footnote stating: This discussion is not meant to be an exact exposition of radiogenic age computation; the relation is mathematically more complicated than the direct proportion assumed for the illustration.

Nevertheless, the principles described are substantially applicable to the actual relationship. Morris states that the production rate of an element formed by radioactive decay is constant with time. This is not true, although for a short period of time compared to the length of the half life the change in production rate may be very small. The age is given by a relatively simple equation: This is usually trapped in the form of very tiny air bubbles in the rock.

One percent of the air we breathe is argon. Any extra argon from air bubbles may need to be taken into account if it is significant relative to the amount of radiogenic argon that is, argon produced by radioactive decays. This would most likely be the case in either young rocks that have not had time to produce much radiogenic argon, or in rocks that are low in the parent potassium.

One must have a way to determine how much air-argon is in the rock. This is rather easily done because air-argon has a couple of other isotopes, the most abundant of which is argon The ratio of argon to argon in air is well known, at Thus, if one measures argon as well as argon, one can calculate and subtract off the air-argon to get an accurate age.

One of the best ways of showing that an age-date is correct is to confirm it with one or more different dating Some young-Earth proponents recently reported that rocks were dated by the potassium-argon method to be a several million years old when they are really only a few years old. But the potassium-argon method, with its long half-life, was never intended to date rocks only 25 years old. These people have only succeeded in correctly showing that one can fool a single radiometric dating method when one uses it improperly.

The false radiometric ages of several million years are due to parentless argon, as described here, and first reported in the literature some fifty years ago. Note that it would be extremely unlikely for another dating method to agree on these bogus ages.

Getting agreement between more than one dating method is a recommended practice. Although potassium-argon is one of the simplest dating methods, there are still some cases where it does not agree with other methods.

When this does happen, it is usually because the gas within bubbles in the rock is from deep underground rather than from the air. This gas can have a higher concentration of argon escaping from the melting of older rocks.

This is called parentless argon because its parent potassium is not in the rock being dated, and is also not from the air. In these slightly unusual cases, the date given by the normal potassium-argon method is too old. However, scientists in the mids came up with a way around this problem, the argon-argon method, discussed in the next section. Even though it has been around for nearly half a century, the argon-argon method is seldom discussed by groups critical of dating methods.

This method uses exactly the same parent and daughter isotopes as the potassium-argon method. In effect, it is a different way of telling time from the same clock. Instead of simply comparing the total potassium with the non-air argon in the rock, this method has a way of telling exactly what and how much argon is directly related to the potassium in the rock.

In the argon-argon method the rock is placed near the center of a nuclear reactor for a period of hours. A nuclear reactor emits a very large number of neutrons, which are capable of changing a small amount of the potassium into argon Argon is not found in nature because it has only a year half-life.

This half-life doesn't affect the argon-argon dating method as long as the measurements are made within about five years of the neutron dose.

**How Carbon Dating Works**

The rock is then heated in a furnace to release both the argon and the argon representing the potassium for analysis. The heating is done at incrementally higher temperatures and at each step the ratio of argon to argon is measured. If the argon is from decay of potassium within the rock, it will come out at the same temperatures as the potassium-derived argon and in a constant proportion. On the other hand, if there is some excess argon in the rock it will cause a different ratio of argon to argon for some or many of the heating steps, so the different heating steps will not agree with each other.

A typical argon-argon dating plot. Figure 2 is an example of a good argon-argon date. The fact that this plot is flat shows that essentially all of the argon is from decay of potassium within the rock. The potassium content of the sample is found by multiplying the argon by a factor based on the neutron exposure in the reactor. When this is done, the plateau in the figure represents an age date based on the decay of potassium to argon There are occasions when the argon-argon dating method does not give an age even if there is sufficient potassium in the sample and the rock was old enough to date.

This most often occurs if the rock experienced a high temperature usually a thousand degrees Fahrenheit or more at some point since its formation.

If that occurs, some of the argon gas moves around, and the analysis does not give a smooth plateau across the extraction temperature steps. An example of an argon-argon analysis that did not yield an age date is shown in Figure 3. Notice that there is no good plateau in this plot. In some instances there will actually be two plateaus, one representing the formation age, and another representing the time at which the heating episode occurred.

But in most cases where the system has been disturbed, there simply is no date given. The important point to note is that, rather than giving wrong age dates, this method simply does not give a date if the system has been disturbed. This is also true of a number of other igneous rock dating methods, as we will describe below. In nearly all of the dating methods, except potassium-argon and the associated argon-argon method, there is always some amount of the daughter product already in the rock when it cools.

Using these methods is a little like trying to tell time from an hourglass that was turned over before all of the sand had fallen to the bottom.

One can think of ways to correct for this in an hourglass: One could make a mark on the outside of the glass where the sand level started from and then repeat the interval with a stopwatch in the other hand to calibrate it.

Or if one is clever she or he could examine the hourglass' shape and determine what fraction of all the sand was at the top to start with.

By knowing how long it takes all of the sand to fall, one could determine how long the time interval was. Similarly, there are good ways to tell quite precisely how much of the daughter product was already in the rock when it cooled and hardened. Strontium has several other isotopes that are stable and do not decay. The ratio of strontium to one of the other stable isotopes, say strontium, increases over time as more rubidium turns to strontium Rubidium has a larger atomic diameter than strontium, so rubidium does not fit into the crystal structure of some minerals as well as others.

Figure 4 is an important type of plot used in rubidium-strontium dating. A rubidium-strontium three-isotope plot. When a rock cools, all its minerals have the same ratio of strontium to strontium, though they have varying amounts of rubidium. As the rock ages, the rubidium decreases by changing to strontium, as shown by the dotted arrows.

### Dating - Rubidium–strontium method | afrocolombianidad.info

Minerals with more rubidium gain more strontium, while those with less rubidium do not change as much. Notice that at any given time, the minerals all line up--a check to ensure that the system has not been disturbed. This works because if there were no rubidium in the sample, the strontium composition would not change. The slope of the line is used to determine the age of the sample. As the rock starts to age, rubidium gets converted to strontium. The amount of strontium added to each mineral is proportional to the amount of rubidium present.

The solid line drawn through the samples will thus progressively rotate from the horizontal to steeper and steeper slopes. From that we can determine the original daughter strontium in each mineral, which is just what we need to know to determine the correct age.

It also turns out that the slope of the line is proportional to the age of the rock. The older the rock, the steeper the line will be. To give an example for the above equation, if the slope of a line in a plot similar to Fig. Several things can on rare occasions cause problems for the rubidium-strontium dating method. One possible source of problems is if a rock contains some minerals that are older than the main part of the rock. This can happen when magma inside the Earth picks up unmelted minerals from the surrounding rock as the magma moves through a magma chamber.

Usually a good geologist can distinguish these "xenoliths" from the younger minerals around them. If he or she does happen to use them for dating the rock, the points represented by these minerals will lie off the line made by the rest of the points. Another difficulty can arise if a rock has undergone metamorphism, that is, if the rock got very hot, but not hot enough to completely re-melt the rock.

### Radiometric dating - Wikipedia

In these cases, the dates look confused, and do not lie along a line. Some of the minerals may have completely melted, while others did not melt at all, so some minerals try to give the igneous age while other minerals try to give the metamorphic age.

In these cases there will not be a straight line, and no date is determined. In a few very rare instances the rubidium-strontium method has given straight lines that give wrong ages.