Radioactive dating is a method of dating rocks and minerals using radioactive isotopes. which cannot be dated by the stratigraphic correlation method used for This method faces problems because the cosmic ray flux has. of the time scale, their stratigraphy, life forms and other useful bits of information. This page is to this topic. Lectures will focus on absolute dating techniques. Once you understand the basic science of radiometric dating, you can see how wrong assumptions lead to incorrect dates.
Radioactive dating - Australian Museum
Mechanisms that can create isochrons giving meaningless ages: Geologists attempt to estimate the initial concentration of daughter product by a clever device called an isochron. Let me make some general comments about isochrons. The idea of isochrons is that one has a parent element, P, a daughter element, D, and another isotope, N, of the daughter that is not generated by decay.
One would assume that initially, the concentration of N and D in different locations are proportional, since their chemical properties are very similar.
Note that this assumption implies a thorough mixing and melting of the magma, which would also mix in the parent substances as well. Then we require some process to preferentially concentrate the parent substances in certain places. Radioactive decay would generate a concentration of D proportional to P. By taking enough measurements of the concentrations of P, D, and N, we can solve for c1 and c2, and from c1 we can determine the radiometric age of the sample.
Otherwise, the system is degenerate. Thus we need to have an uneven distribution of D relative to N at the start. If these ratios are observed to obey such a linear relationship in a series of rocks, then an age can be computed from them. The bigger c1 is, the older the rock is.
That is, the more daughter product relative to parent product, the greater the age. Thus we have the same general situation as with simiple parent-to-daughter computations, more daughter product implies an older age.
This is a very clever idea. However, there are some problems with it. First, in order to have a meaningful isochron, it is necessary to have an unusual chain of events. Initially, one has to have a uniform ratio of lead isotopes in the magma.
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Usually the concentration of uranium and thorium varies in different places in rock. This will, over the assumed millions of years, produce uneven concentrations of lead isotopes. To even this out, one has to have a thorough mixing of the magma. Even this is problematical, unless the magma is very hot, and no external material enters.
Now, after the magma is thoroughly mixed, the uranium and thorium will also be thoroughly mixed. What has to happen next to get an isochron is that the uranium or thorium has to concentrate relative to the lead isotopes, more in some places than others. So this implies some kind of chemical fractionation.
Then the system has to remain closed for a long time. This chemical fractionation will most likely arise by some minerals incorporating more or less uranium or thorium relative to lead.
Anyway, to me it seems unlikely that this chain of events would occur. Another problem with isochrons is that they can occur by mixing and other processes that result in isochrons yielding meaningless ages. Sometimes, according to Faure, what seems to be an isochron is actually a mixing line, a leftover from differentiation in the magma. Fractionation followed by mixing can create isochrons giving too old ages, without any fractionation of daughter isotopes taking place.
To get an isochron with a false age, all you need is 1 too much daughter element, due to some kind of fractionation and 2 mixing of this with something else that fractionated differently. Since fractionation and mixing are so common, we should expect to find isochrons often.
How they correlate with the expected ages of their geologic period is an interesting question.
Accuracy of Fossils and Dating Methods
There are at least some outstanding anomalies. Faure states that chemical fractionation produces "fictitious isochrons whose slopes have no time significance. As an example, he uses Pliocene to Recent lava flows and from lava flows in historical times to illustrate the problem. He says, these flows should have slopes approaching zero less than 1 million yearsbut they instead appear to be much older million years. Steve Austin has found lava rocks on the Uinkeret Plateau at Grand Canyon with fictitious isochrons dating at 1.
Then a mixing of A and B will have the same fixed concentration of N everywhere, but the amount of D will be proportional to the amount of P. This produces an isochron yielding the same age as sample A. This is a reasonable scenario, since N is a non-radiogenic isotope not produced by decay such as leadand it can be assumed to have similar concentrations in many magmas. Magma from the ocean floor has little U and little U and probably little lead byproducts lead and lead Magma from melted continental material probably has more of both U and U and lead and lead Thus we can get an isochron by mixing, that has the age of the younger-looking continental crust.
The age will not even depend on how much crust is incorporated, as long as it is non-zero. However, if the crust is enriched in lead or impoverished in uranium before the mixing, then the age of the isochron will be increased. If the reverse happens before mixing, the age of the isochron will be decreased.
Any process that enriches or impoverishes part of the magma in lead or uranium before such a mixing will have a similar effect. So all of the scenarios given before can also yield spurious isochrons.
I hope that this discussion will dispel the idea that there is something magical about isochrons that prevents spurious dates from being obtained by enrichment or depletion of parent or daughter elements as one would expect by common sense reasoning. So all the mechanisms mentioned earlier are capable of producing isochrons with ages that are too old, or that decrease rapidly with time.
The conclusion is the same, radiometric dating is in trouble. I now describe this mixing in more detail. Suppose P p is the concentration of parent at a point p in a rock.
The point p specifies x,y, and z co-ordinates. Let D p be the concentration of daughter at the point p. Let N p be the concentration of some non-radiogenic not generated by radioactive decay isotope of D at point p. Suppose this rock is obtained by mixing of two other rocks, A and B.
Suppose that A has a for the sake of argument, uniform concentration of P1 of parent, D1 of daughter, and N1 of non-radiogenic isotope of the daughter. Thus P1, D1, and N1 are numbers between 0 and 1 whose sum adds to less than 1. Suppose B has concentrations P2, D2, and N2.
Let r p be the fraction of A at any given point p in the mixture. So the usual methods for augmenting and depleting parent and daughter substances still work to influence the age of this isochron. More daughter product means an older age, and less daughter product relative to parent means a younger age.
In fact, more is true. Any isochron whatever with a positive age and a constant concentration of N can be constructed by such a mixing. It is only necessary to choose r p and P1, N1, and N2 so as to make P p and D p agree with the observed values, and there is enough freedom to do this.
Anyway, to sum up, there are many processes that can produce a rock or magma A having a spurious parent-to-daughter ratio. Then from mixing, one can produce an isochron having a spurious age. This shows that computed radiometric ages, even isochrons, do not have any necessary relation to true geologic ages. Mixing can produce isochrons giving false ages. But anyway, let's suppose we only consider isochrons for which mixing cannot be detected.
How do their ages agree with the assumed ages of their geologic periods? As far as I know, it's anyone's guess, but I'd appreciate more information on this. I believe that the same considerations apply to concordia and discordia, but am not as familiar with them.
It's interesting that isochrons depend on chemical fractionation for their validity. They assume that initially the magma was well mixed to assure an even concentration of lead isotopes, but that uranium or thorium were unevenly distributed initially.
So this assumes at the start that chemical fractionation is operating. But these same chemical fractionation processes call radiometric dating into question.
The relative concentrations of lead isotopes are measured in the vicinity of a rock. The amount of radiogenic lead is measured by seeing how the lead in the rock differs in isotope composition from the lead around the rock. This is actually a good argument.
But, is this test always done? How often is it done? And what does one mean by the vicinity of the rock? How big is a vicinity? One could say that some of the radiogenic lead has diffused into neighboring rocks, too. Some of the neighboring rocks may have uranium and thorium as well although this can be factored in in an isochron-type manner. Furthermore, I believe that mixing can also invalidate this test, since it is essentially an isochron.
Finally, if one only considers U-Pb and Th-Pb dates for which this test is done, and for which mixing cannot be detected. The above two-source mixing scenario is limited, because it can only produce isochrons having a fixed concentration of N p. To produce isochrons having a variable N pa mixing of three sources would suffice.
This could produce an arbitrary isochron, so this mixing could not be detected.
Radiometric dating - Wikipedia
Also, it seems unrealistic to say that a geologist would discard any isochron with a constant value of N pas it seems to be a very natural condition at least for whole rock isochronsand not necessarily to indicate mixing. I now show that the mixing of three sources can produce an isochron that could not be detected by the mixing test. First let me note that there is a lot more going on than just mixing. There can also be fractionation that might treat the parent and daughter products identically, and thus preserve the isochron, while changing the concentrations so as to cause the mixing test to fail.
It is not even necessary for the fractionation to treat parent and daughter equally, as long as it has the same preference for one over the other in all minerals examined; this will also preserve the isochron. Now, suppose we have an arbitrary isochron with concentrations of parent, daughter, and non-radiogenic isotope of the daughter as P pD pand N p at point p. Suppose that the rock is then diluted with another source which does not contain any of D, P, or N.
Then these concentrations would be reduced by a factor of say r' p at point p, and so the new concentrations would be P p r' pD p r' pand N p r' p at point p. Now, earlier I stated that an arbitrary isochron with a fixed concentration of N p could be obtained by mixing of two sources, both having a fixed concentration of N p. With mixing from a third source as indicated above, we obtain an isochron with a variable concentration of N pand in fact an arbitrary isochron can be obtained in this manner.
So we see that it is actually not much harder to get an isochron yielding a given age than it is to get a single rock yielding a given age.
This can happen by mixing scenarios as indicated above. Thus all of our scenarios for producing spurious parent-to-daughter ratios can be extended to yield spurious isochrons.
The condition that one of the sources have no P, D, or N is fairly natural, I think, because of the various fractionations that can produce very different kinds of magma, and because of crustal materials of various kinds melting and entering the magma. In fact, considering all of the processes going on in magma, it would seem that such mixing processes and pseudo-isochrons would be guaranteed to occur.
Even if one of the sources has only tiny amounts of P, D, and N, it would still produce a reasonably good isochron as indicated above, and this isochron could not be detected by the mixing test. I now give a more natural three-source mixing scenario that can produce an arbitrary isochron, which could not be detected by a mixing test. P2 and P3 are small, since some rocks will have little parent substance. Suppose also that N2 and N3 differ significantly. Such mixings can produce arbitrary isochrons, so these cannot be detected by any mixing test.
Also, if P1 is reduced by fractionation prior to mixing, this will make the age larger. If P1 is increased, it will make the age smaller.
If P1 is not changed, the age will at least have geological significance. But it could be measuring the apparent age of the ocean floor or crustal material rather than the time of the lava flow. I believe that the above shows the 3 source mixing to be natural and likely.
We now show in more detail that we can get an arbitrary isochron by a mixing of three sources. Thus such mixings cannot be detected by a mixing test. Assume D3, P3, and N3 in source 3, all zero. One can get this mixing to work with smaller concentrations, too. All the rest of the mixing comes from source 3. Thus we produce the desired isochron.
So this is a valid mixing, and we are done. We can get more realistic mixings of three sources with the same result by choosing the sources to be linear combinations of sources 1, 2, and 3 above, with more natural concentrations of D, P, and N. The rest of the mixing comes from source 3.
This mixing is more realistic because P1, N1, D2, and N2 are not so large. I did see in one reference the statement that some parent-to-daughter ratio yielded more accurate dates than isochrons. To me, this suggests the possibility that geologists themselves recognize the problems with isochrons, and are looking for a better method. The impression I have is that geologists are continually looking for new methods, hoping to find something that will avoid problems with existing methods.
But then problems also arise with the new methods, and so the search goes on. Furthermore, here is a brief excerpt from a recent article which also indicates that isochrons often have severe problems. If all of these isochrons indicated mixing, one would think that this would have been mentioned: The geological literature is filled with references to Rb-Sr isochron ages that are questionable, and even impossible.
He comes closest to recognizing the fact that the Sr concentration is a third or confounding variable in the isochron simple linear regression. Snelling discusses numerous false ages in the U-Pb system where isochrons are also used. However, the U-Th-Pb method uses a different procedure that I have not examined and for which I have no data. Many of the above authors attempt to explain these "fictitious" ages by resorting to the mixing of several sources of magma containing different amounts of Rb, Sr, and Sr immediately before the formation hardens.
AkridgeArmstrongArndtsBrown, Helmick and Baumann all discuss this factor in detail. Anyway, if isochrons producing meaningless ages can be produced by mixing, and this mixing cannot be detected if three or maybe even two, with fractionation sources are involved, and if mixing frequently occurs, and if simple parent-to-daughter dating also has severe problems, as mentioned earlier, then I would conclude that the reliability of radiometric dating is open to serious question.
The many acknowledged anomalies in radiometric dating only add weight to this argument. I would also mention that there are some parent-to-daughter ratios and some isochrons that yield ages in the thousands of years for the geologic column, as one would expect if it is in fact very young.
One might question why we do not have more isochrons with negative slopes if so many isochrons were caused by mixing. This depends on the nature of the samples that mix. It is not necessarily true that one will get the same number of negative as positive slopes. If I have a rock X with lots of uranium and lead daughter isotope, and rock Y with less of both relative to non-radiogenic leadthen one will get an isochron with a positive slope.
If rock X has lots of uranium and little daughter product, and rock Y has little uranium and lots of lead daughter product relative to non-radiogenic leadthen one will get a negative slope.
This last case may be very rare because of the relative concentrations of uranium and lead in crustal material and subducted oceanic plates. Another interesting fact is that isochrons can be inherited from magma into minerals. Earlier, I indicated how crystals can have defects or imperfections in which small amounts of magma can be trapped. This can result in dates being inherited from magma into minerals. This can also result in isochrons being inherited in the same way.
So the isochron can be measuring an older age than the time at which the magma solidified. This can happen also if the magma is not thoroughly mixed when it erupts.
If this happens, the isochron can be measuring an age older than the date of the eruption. This is how geologists explain away the old isochron at the top of the Grand Canyon. From my reading, isochrons are generally not done, as they are expensive. Isochrons require more measurements than single parent-to-daughter ratios, so most dates are based on parent-to-daughter ratios.
So all of the scenarios given apply to this large class of dates. Another thing to keep in mind is that it is not always possible to do an isochron. Often one does not get a straight line for the values. This is taken to imply re-melting after the initial solidification, or some other disturbing event.
Anyway, this also reduces the number of data points obtained from isochrons. Anyway, suppose we throw out all isochrons for which mixing seems to be a possibility. Due to some published anomalies, I don't think we know that they have any clear relationship to the assumed dates.
It is also interesting that the points for isochrons are sometimes selected so as to obtain the isochron property, according to John Woodmorappe's paper. Do the various methods correlate with one another?
We have been trying to give mechanisms that explain how the different dating methods can give dates that agree with one another, if the geologic column is young. But if there is a variation, such effects could help to explain it. The collision threw many tons of debris into the atmosphere and possibly led to the extinction of the dinosaurs and many other life forms.
The fallout from this enormous impact, including shocked quartz and high concentrations of the element iridium, has been found in sedimentary rocks at more than locations worldwide at the precise stratigraphic location of the Cretaceous-Tertiary K-T boundary Alvarez and Asaro ; Alvarez We now know that the impact site is located on the Yucatan Peninsula.
Measuring the age of this impact event independently of the stratigraphic evidence is an obvious test for radiometric methods, and a number of scientists in laboratories around the world set to work.
In addition to shocked quartz grains and high concentrations of iridium, the K-T impact produced tektites, which are small glass spherules that form from rock that is instantaneously melted by a large impact. The K-T tektites were ejected into the atmosphere and deposited some distance away.
Tektites are easily recognizable and form in no other way, so the discovery of a sedimentary bed the Beloc Formation in Haiti that contained tektites and that, from fossil evidence, coincided with the K-T boundary provided an obvious candidate for dating.
Scientists from the US Geological Survey were the first to obtain radiometric ages for the tektites and laboratories in Berkeley, Stanford, Canada, and France soon followed suit. The results from all of the laboratories were remarkably consistent with the measured ages ranging only from Similar tektites were also found in Mexico, and the Berkeley lab found that they were the same age as the Haiti tektites.
The K-T boundary is recorded in numerous sedimentary beds around the world. Numerous thin beds of volcanic ash occur within these coals just centimeters above the K-T boundary, and some of these ash beds contain minerals that can be dated radiometrically.
Since both the ash beds and the tektites occur either at or very near the K-T boundary, as determined by diagnostic fossils, the tektites and the ash beds should be very nearly the same age, and they are Table 2. There are several important things to note about these results. First, the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods were defined by geologists in the early s. The boundary between these periods the K-T boundary is marked by an abrupt change in fossils found in sedimentary rocks worldwide.
Its exact location in the stratigraphic column at any locality has nothing to do with radiometric dating — it is located by careful study of the fossils and the rocks that contain them, and nothing more.
Furthermore, the dating was done in 6 different laboratories and the materials were collected from 5 different locations in the Western Hemisphere. And yet the results are the same within analytical error. These flows buried and destroyed Pompeii and other nearby Roman cities.
We know the exact day of this eruption because Pliny the Younger carefully recorded the event. They separated sanidine crystals from a sample of one of the ash flows. Incremental heating experiments on 12 samples of sanidine yielded 46 data points that resulted in an isochron age of 94 years. The actual age of the flow in was years. Is this just a coincidence? No — it is the result of extremely careful analyses using a technique that works. This is not the only dating study to be done on an historic lava flow.
Two extensive studies done more than 25 years ago involved analyzing the isotopic composition of argon in such flows to determine if the source of the argon was atmospheric, as must be assumed in K-Ar dating Dalrymple26 flows; Krummenacher19 flows.
Note, however, that even an error of 0. Summary In this short paper I have briefly described 4 examples of radiometric dating studies where there is both internal and independent evidence that the results have yielded valid ages for significant geologic events. It is these studies, and the many more like them documented in the scientific literature, that the creationists need to address before they can discredit radiometric dating.
Their odds of success are near zero. Even if against all odds they should succeed, it still would not prove that the Earth is young.
Radiometric Dating Does Work! | NCSE
Only when young-earth creationists produce convincing quantitative, scientific evidence that the earth is young will they be worth listening to on this important scientific matter. Acknowledgments I thank Chris Stassen and 2 anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful comments, which led to important improvements in the manuscript. T Rex and the Crater of Doom. Alvarez W, Asaro, F. Arndts R, Overn W. Excess argon within mineral concentrates from the new dacite lava dome at Mount St Helens volcano.
How old is the earth? And biostratigraphy allowed correlation with rocks even on other continents. In combination, the principles of stratigraphy were useful for determining a global relative time scale, but questions of numerical time were still unresolved.
Discovery of radioactive decay at the dawn of the 20th Century gave the key: A way around the problem of Lord Kelvin's short physical estimate of Earth's age, because a new natural heat source for keeping Earth's interior molten was now known Also, radioactive decay itself forms a "clock" usable for determining age of rocks.
Compare the ratio of parent product to daughter product Radiometric dates will only be effective for igneous rocks, since those are the ones that form by cooling and locking atoms into place In sedimentary rocks, can date the individual grains of sediment: Daughter product should only be produced naturally by decay from the parent Neither parent nor daughter should be able to leave the sample naturally Only useful for determining ages of formation of mineral grains and thus really best for igneous rocks When possible, radiometric dates of different isotopes with different decay rates are calculated for same sample.
If these converge, good support for that age. Eliminates need for closed system and need for absence of original daughter product Need three measurements from a rock: Because of the nature of the ratios involved, as points move away from horizontal they should do so in a straight line with the same Y-intercept as the original line. This straight line is the isochronand its slope is a function of the number of half-lives that have passed.
The steeper the slope, the older the rock sample. If points do NOT fit on a straight line, indicates either gain or loss of one of the parts of the system; allows for a measure of uncertainty. The following is an animated demonstration of the isochron method, from Talkorigins. There was already reason to suspect that Ar-dating was slightly miscalibrated on geochemical arguments. As a consequence, dates from before the s often don't quite match up with our current understanding Other methods of numerical dating: