Radiometric dating and the geological time scale

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magazine has been continuously published since 1978, we are publishing some of the articles from the archives for historical interest, such as this.

For teaching and sharing purposes, readers are advised to supplement these historic articles with more up-to-date ones suggested in the Related Articles and Further Reading below.

Despite this, the momentum gained in the two decades prior to 1972 has made 4.5 b.y.

a popularly accepted “universal constant” even though the foundations on which it was based have been virtually removed.

Therefore, all one has to do in general terms is to find a radioactive mineral which has been a closed system since the time of mineralization, and for which the amount of the daughter product at the beginning is known, the so-called primordial amount, and the absolute age may be calculated from the present amount of parent and daughter isotopes in the mineral.

Briefly, the weakest points in this method are that (a) truly closed systems probably do not exist in nature, “As in the case with radiometric ages determined from almost any rock unit it is impossible to establish unequivocally that the ages reported here reflect the time of original crystallization or emplacement of the bodies from which they are derived.” Before we consider the actual lead/lead isotope data there is one other comment that needs to be made regarding extrapolation of present rates. Five billion years is five million times greater than one thousand years. 2 is 2.5 cm, five million times greater is about 125 km.

The radiometric dating method is basically an extrapolation of the form shown in Fig. If the decay constant is known with great accuracy, an extrapolation over one or two thousand years may be regarded as quite reasonable. It should be obvious that the further one projects present rates, the more likely one is to be quite wrong. era started about 1955 with the publication of a classic paper by Patterson In spite of cautions and scepticism advised by the authors this number has been widely and enthusiastically accepted and is usually quoted as if the evidence was decisive and conclusive. Lead-206 and lead-207 are known daughter products from the decay of uranium-238 and uranium-235, respectively.

It has assumed something of the status of a universal constant to which all other data must be fitted, thus it has become common practice to assume that data which does not fit this result is either wrong or unintelligible. Lead-204, a minor isotope of common lead, has no radioactive parent and is believed to be primordial lead.

The basic theory of radiometric dating is briefly reviewed.It might be argued that although radiometric dating has a few problems, the large body of concordant data using different isotopes shows that the dates are of the right order.In fact, there is no large body of concordant data.“This (work) shows unequivocally for the first time that there is indeed a real problem in the uranium/lead evolution in meteorites, in that in each of these meteorites there is now insufficient uranium to support the lead isotope composition.“It therefore follows that the whole of the classical interpretation of the meteorite lead isotope data is in doubt, and that the radiometric estimates of the age of the Earth are placed in jeopardy.” In plain language, the radiometric estimates for the age of the earth are lacking real foundations.

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