An Essay on Radiometric Dating. Radiometric dating methods are the strongest direct evidence that geologists have for the age of the Earth. All these methods point to Earth being very, very old — several billions of years old. Young-Earth creationists — that is, creationists who believe that Earth is no more than 10, years old — are fond of attacking radiometric dating methods as being full of inaccuracies and riddled with sources of error. When I first became interested in the creation-evolution debate, in late , I looked around for sources that clearly and simply explained what radiometric dating is and why young-Earth creationists are driven to discredit it. I found several good sources, but none that seemed both complete enough to stand alone and simple enough for a non-geologist to understand them. Thus this essay, which is my attempt at producing such a source. Theory of Radiometric Dating.
The Remarkable Metrological History of Radiocarbon Dating [II]
The age of fossils can be determined using stratigraphy, biostratigraphy, and radiocarbon dating. Paleontology seeks to map out how life evolved across geologic time. A substantial hurdle is the difficulty of working out fossil ages. There are several different methods for estimating the ages of fossils, including:.
Radiocarbon dating has been used to determine of the ages of ancient in an object being radiocarbon dated, future scientists would be able to then column and in many if not most cases other forms of Radiometric dating.
Dating techniques are procedures used by scientists to determine the age of rocks, fossils, or artifacts. Relative dating methods tell only if one sample is older or younger than another; absolute dating methods provide an approximate date in years. The latter have generally been available only since Many absolute dating techniques take advantage of radioactive decay , whereby a radioactive form of an element decays into a non-radioactive product at a regular rate.
Others, such as amino acid racimization and cation-ratio dating, are based on chemical changes in the organic or inorganic composition of a sample. In recent years, a few of these methods have come under close scrutiny as scientists strive to develop the most accurate dating techniques possible. Relative dating methods determine whether one sample is older or younger than another.
They do not provide an age in years. Before the advent of absolute dating methods, nearly all dating was relative. The main relative dating method is stratigraphy. Stratigraphy is the study of layers of rocks or the objects embedded within those layers. It is based on the assumption which nearly always holds true that deeper layers were deposited earlier, and thus are older, than more shallow layers.
The sequential layers of rock represent sequential intervals of time. Although these units may be sequential, they are not necessarily continuous due to erosional removal of some intervening.
FAQ – Radioactive Age-Dating
Geologists use radiometric dating to estimate how long ago rocks formed, and to infer the ages of fossils contained within those rocks. Radioactive elements decay The universe is full of naturally occurring radioactive elements. Radioactive atoms are inherently unstable; over time, radioactive “parent atoms” decay into stable “daughter atoms.
This means that scientists have to choose the right dating method for a material or they won’t get an accurate age. One kind of absolute dating is radiocarbon.
How do scientists find the age of planets date samples or planetary time relative age and absolute age? If carbon is so short-lived in comparison to potassium or uranium, why is it that in terms of the media, we mostly about carbon and rarely the others? Are carbon isotopes used for age measurement of meteorite samples? We hear a lot of time estimates, X hundred millions, X million years, etc.
In nature, all elements have atoms with varying numbers of neutrons in their nucleus. These differing atoms are called isotopes and they are represented by the sum of protons and neutrons in the nucleus. Let’s look at a simple case, carbon. Carbon has 6 protons in its nucleus, but the number of neutrons its nucleus can host range from 6 to 8. We thus have three different isotopes of carbon: Carbon with 6 protons and 6 neutrons in the nucleus, Carbon with 6 protons and 7 neutrons in the nucleus, Carbon with 6 protons and 8 neutrons in the nucleus.
Both carbon and carbon are stable, but carbon is unstable, which means that there are too many neutrons in the nucleus. Carbon is also known as radiocarbon. As a result, carbon decays by changing one proton into a neutron and becoming a different element, nitrogen with 7 protons and 7 neutrons in the nucleus.
Geologists often need to know the age of material that they find. They use absolute dating methods, sometimes called numerical dating, to give rocks an actual date, or date range, in number of years. This is different to relative dating, which only puts geological events in time order. Most absolute dates for rocks are obtained with radiometric methods.
Scientists use cation-ratio dating to determine how long rock surfaces have been exposed. They do this by chemically analyzing the varnish that forms on these.
Radiometric dating of rocks and minerals using naturally occurring, long-lived radioactive isotopes is troublesome for young-earth creationists because the techniques have provided overwhelming evidence of the antiquity of the earth and life. Some so-called creation scientists have attempted to show that radiometric dating does not work on theoretical grounds for example, Arndts and Overn ; Gill but such attempts invariably have fatal flaws see Dalrymple ; York and Dalrymple Other creationists have focused on instances in which radiometric dating seems to yield incorrect results.
In most instances, these efforts are flawed because the authors have misunderstood or misrepresented the data they attempt to analyze for example, Woodmorappe ; Morris HM ; Morris JD Only rarely does a creationist actually find an incorrect radiometric result Austin ; Rugg and Austin that has not already been revealed and discussed in the scientific literature. The creationist approach of focusing on examples where radiometric dating yields incorrect results is a curious one for two reasons.
First, it provides no evidence whatsoever to support their claim that the earth is very young. If the earth were only —10 years old, then surely there should be some scientific evidence to confirm that hypothesis; yet the creationists have produced not a shred of it so far. Where are the data and age calculations that result in a consistent set of ages for all rocks on earth, as well as those from the moon and the meteorites, no greater than 10 years?
Glaringly absent, it seems. Second, it is an approach doomed to failure at the outset. Creationists seem to think that a few examples of incorrect radiometric ages invalidate all of the results of radiometric dating, but such a conclusion is illogical. Even things that work well do not work well all of the time and under all circumstances. Try, for example, wearing a watch that is not waterproof while swimming.
Dating Fossils – How Are Fossils Dated?
Relative Dating Prior to the availability of radiocarbon dates and when there is no material suitable for a radiocarbon date scientists used a system of relative dating. Relative dating establishes the sequence of physical or cultural events in time. Knowing which events came before or after others allows scientists to analyze the relationships between the events. For example, archaeologists might date materials based upon relative depth of burial in a site.
The atoms of some chemical elements have different forms, called isotopes. These break down over time in a process scientists call radioactive.
Absolute dating is the process of determining an age on a specified chronology in archaeology and geology. Some scientists prefer the terms chronometric or calendar dating , as use of the word “absolute” implies an unwarranted certainty of accuracy. In archaeology, absolute dating is usually based on the physical, chemical, and life properties of the materials of artifacts, buildings, or other items that have been modified by humans and by historical associations with materials with known dates coins and written history.
Techniques include tree rings in timbers, radiocarbon dating of wood or bones, and trapped-charge dating methods such as thermoluminescence dating of glazed ceramics. In historical geology , the primary methods of absolute dating involve using the radioactive decay of elements trapped in rocks or minerals, including isotope systems from very young radiocarbon dating with 14 C to systems such as uranium—lead dating that allow acquisition of absolute ages for some of the oldest rocks on Earth.
Radiometric dating is based on the known and constant rate of decay of radioactive isotopes into their radiogenic daughter isotopes. Particular isotopes are suitable for different applications due to the types of atoms present in the mineral or other material and its approximate age. For example, techniques based on isotopes with half lives in the thousands of years, such as carbon, cannot be used to date materials that have ages on the order of billions of years, as the detectable amounts of the radioactive atoms and their decayed daughter isotopes will be too small to measure within the uncertainty of the instruments.
One of the most widely used and well-known absolute dating techniques is carbon or radiocarbon dating, which is used to date organic remains. This is a radiometric technique since it is based on radioactive decay. Carbon moves up the food chain as animals eat plants and as predators eat other animals.
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Despite seeming like a relatively stable place, the Earth’s surface has changed dramatically over the past 4. Mountains have been built and eroded, continents and oceans have moved great distances, and the Earth has fluctuated from being extremely cold and almost completely covered with ice to being very warm and ice-free. These changes typically occur so slowly that they are barely detectable over the span of a human life, yet even at this instant, the Earth’s surface is moving and changing.
As these changes have occurred, organisms have evolved, and remnants of some have been preserved as fossils. A fossil can be studied to determine what kind of organism it represents, how the organism lived, and how it was preserved.
Fossil Dating. Relative and Absolute Dating. HOW DO WE KNOW THE AGE OF FOSSILS? Scientists use 2 methods to determine the age of fossils: 1. Relative.
Ever since The Enlightenment, and possibly even before that, researchers have attempted to understand the chronology of the world around us, to figure out precisely when each stage in our geological, biological and cultural evolution took place. Even when the only science we had to go on was religious literature and the western world believed the world was created in BC 1 , scholars tried to figure out when each biblical event took place, to define a chronology from savagery to civilization, from creation to the first animal, then to the emergence of the first people.
The pre-enlightenment understanding of our geological and cultural history may now be proven wrong and subject to ridicule, but the principles of defining our place in time in the cosmos underpin many sciences. As technology advances, so do our methods, accuracy and tools for discovering what we want to learn about the past. All dating methods today can be grouped into one of two categories: absolute dating , and relative dating.
The former gives a numeric age for example, this artefact is years old ; the latter provides a date based on relationships to other elements for example, this geological layer formed before this other one. Both methods are vital to piecing together events of the past from the recent back to a time before humans and even before complex life and sometimes, researchers will combine both methods to come up with a date. Some of the methods covered here are tried and tested, representing early methods of examining past geological, geographical, anthropological and archaeological processes.
Most are multidisciplinary, but some are limited, due to their nature, to a single discipline. No system is completely failsafe and no method completely correct, but with the right application, they can and have aided researchers piece together the past and solve some of their discipline’s most complex problems. Any scientific discipline for which chronology is important may utilize these dating methods.
They may tell us many things including age, but also its place in a sequence of processes. Typically, this will include:. These are the scientific areas with which we most associate dating methods.