How Old is the Earth
Learn about half-life and how it is used in different dating methods, such as uranium-lead dating and radiocarbon dating, in this video lesson. Radioactive 39 Ar decays back to 39 K by beta emission with a half-life of years, but the decay is slow compared to the analysis time and can be ignored Faure, Claims have been made that dating can be done back to from 40 to 70 thousand years, but it seems highly improbable that instruments could measure activity of the small amounts of C 14 that would be present in a sample more than 15, years old. The last three points deserve more attention. Note that because of the position of the dated beds, there is room for improvement in the time constraints on these fossil-bearing intervals e. But with improvements in this method, it is becoming possible to date the human and animal remains themselves.
An effort is presently underway to bridge the gaps so as to have a reliable, continuous record significantly farther back in time. The Napperby depositional sequence represents the upper limit of the Gunnedah Basin sequence, with a regional unconformity existing between the Triassic and overlying Jurassic sediments of the Surat Basin north of the Liverpool Ranges. Daughter The element or isotope which is produced by radioactive decay. However, close examination of his examples, a few of which are listed in Table 2 , shows that he misrepresents both the data and their meaning. At the time that Darwin's On the Origin of Species was published, the earth was "scientifically" determined to be million years old. The rocks or minerals must have remained systems closed to rubidium and strontium since their formation; if this condition is not true, then the data will not plot on an isochron.
The most obvious constraint is the age of the oldest rocks. These have been dated at up to about four billion years. But actually only a very small portion of the Earth 's rocks are that old. From satellite data and other measurements we know that the Earth's surface is constantly rearranging itself little by little as Earth quakes occur. Such rearranging cannot occur without some of the Earth's surface disappearing under other parts of the Earth's surface, re-melting some of the rock.
So it appears that none of the rocks have survived from the creation of the Earth without undergoing remelting, metamorphism, or erosion, and all we can say--from this line of evidence--is that the Earth appears to be at least as old as the four billion year old rocks.
When scientists began systematically dating meteorites they learned a very interesting thing: These meteorites are chips off the asteroids. When the asteroids were formed in space, they cooled relatively quickly some of them may never have gotten very warm , so all of their rocks were formed within a few million years. The asteroids' rocks have not been remelted ever since, so the ages have generally not been disturbed. Meteorites that show evidence of being from the largest asteroids have slightly younger ages.
The moon is larger than the largest asteroid. Most of the rocks we have from the moon do not exceed 4. The samples thought to be the oldest are highly pulverized and difficult to date, though there are a few dates extending all the way to 4. Most scientists think that all the bodies in the solar system were created at about the same time. Evidence from the uranium, thorium, and lead isotopes links the Earth's age with that of the meteorites.
This would make the Earth 4. There is another way to determine the age of the Earth. If we see an hourglass whose sand has run out, we know that it was turned over longer ago than the time interval it measures. Similarly, if we find that a radioactive parent was once abundant but has since run out, we know that it too was set longer ago than the time interval it measures.
There are in fact many, many more parent isotopes than those listed in Table 1. However, most of them are no longer found naturally on Earth--they have run out.
Their half-lives range down to times shorter than we can measure. Every single element has radioisotopes that no longer exist on Earth! Many people are familiar with a chart of the elements Fig. Nuclear chemists and geologists use a different kind of figure to show all of the isotopes.
It is called a chart of the nuclides. Figure 7 shows a portion of this chart. It is basically a plot of the number of protons vs. Recall that an element is defined by how many protons it has. Each element can have a number of different isotopes, that is,. A portion of the chart of the nuclides showing isotopes of argon and potassium, and some of the isotopes of chlorine and calcium.
Isotopes shown in dark green are found in rocks. Isotopes shown in light green have short half-lives, and thus are no longer found in rocks.
Short-lived isotopes can be made for nearly every element in the periodic table, but unless replenished by cosmic rays or other radioactive isotopes, they no longer exist in nature. So each element occupies a single row, while different isotopes of that element lie in different columns. For potassium found in nature, the total neutrons plus protons can add up to 39, 40, or Potassium and are stable, but potassium is unstable, giving us the dating methods discussed above.
Besides the stable potassium isotopes and potassium, it is possible to produce a number of other potassium isotopes, but, as shown by the half-lives of these isotopes off to the side, they decay away. Now, if we look at which radioisotopes still exist and which do not, we find a very interesting fact.
Nearly all isotopes with half-lives shorter than half a billion years are no longer in existence. For example, although most rocks contain significant amounts of Calcium, the isotope Calcium half-life , years does not exist just as potassium, , , etc.
Just about the only radioisotopes found naturally are those with very long half-lives of close to a billion years or longer, as illustrated in the time line in Fig.
The only isotopes present with shorter half-lives are those that have a source constantly replenishing them. Chlorine shown in Fig. In a number of cases there is. Some of these isotopes and their half-lives are given in Table II.
This is conclusive evidence that the solar system was created longer ago than the span of these half lives! On the other hand, the existence in nature of parent isotopes with half lives around a billion years and longer is strong evidence that the Earth was created not longer ago than several billion years. The Earth is old enough that radioactive isotopes with half-lives less than half a billion years decayed away, but not so old that radioactive isotopes with longer half-lives are gone.
This is just like finding hourglasses measuring a long time interval still going, while hourglasses measuring shorter intervals have run out. Years Plutonium 82 million Iodine 16 million Palladium 6. Unlike the radioactive isotopes discussed above, these isotopes are constantly being replenished in small amounts in one of two ways.
The bottom two entries, uranium and thorium, are replenished as the long-lived uranium atoms decay. These will be discussed in the next section. The other three, Carbon, beryllium, and chlorine are produced by cosmic rays--high energy particles and photons in space--as they hit the Earth's upper atmosphere. Very small amounts of each of these isotopes are present in the air we breathe and the water we drink.
As a result, living things, both plants and animals, ingest very small amounts of carbon, and lake and sea sediments take up small amounts of beryllium and chlorine The cosmogenic dating clocks work somewhat differently than the others.
Carbon in particular is used to date material such as bones, wood, cloth, paper, and other dead tissue from either plants or animals.
To a rough approximation, the ratio of carbon to the stable isotopes, carbon and carbon, is relatively constant in the atmosphere and living organisms, and has been well calibrated. Once a living thing dies, it no longer takes in carbon from food or air, and the amount of carbon starts to drop with time. Since the half-life of carbon is less than 6, years, it can only be used for dating material less than about 45, years old.
Dinosaur bones do not have carbon unless contaminated , as the dinosaurs became extinct over 60 million years ago. But some other animals that are now extinct, such as North American mammoths, can be dated by carbon Also, some materials from prehistoric times, as well as Biblical events, can be dated by carbon The carbon dates have been carefully cross-checked with non-radiometric age indicators. For example growth rings in trees, if counted carefully, are a reliable way to determine the age of a tree.
Each growth ring only collects carbon from the air and nutrients during the year it is made. To calibrate carbon, one can analyze carbon from the center several rings of a tree, and then count the rings inward from the living portion to determine the actual age.
This has been done for the "Methuselah of trees", the bristlecone pine trees, which grow very slowly and live up to 6, years. Scientists have extended this calibration even further. These trees grow in a very dry region near the California-Nevada border. Dead trees in this dry climate take many thousands of years to decay. Growth ring patterns based on wet and dry years can be correlated between living and long dead trees, extending the continuous ring count back to 11, years ago.
An effort is presently underway to bridge the gaps so as to have a reliable, continuous record significantly farther back in time. The study of tree rings and the ages they give is called "dendrochronology". Calibration of carbon back to almost 50, years ago has been done in several ways. One way is to find yearly layers that are produced over longer periods of time than tree rings.
In some lakes or bays where underwater sedimentation occurs at a relatively rapid rate, the sediments have seasonal patterns, so each year produces a distinct layer. Such sediment layers are called "varves", and are described in more detail below.
Varve layers can be counted just like tree rings. If layers contain dead plant material, they can be used to calibrate the carbon ages. Another way to calibrate carbon farther back in time is to find recently-formed carbonate deposits and cross-calibrate the carbon in them with another short-lived radioactive isotope.
Where do we find recently-formed carbonate deposits? If you have ever taken a tour of a cave and seen water dripping from stalactites on the ceiling to stalagmites on the floor of the cave, you have seen carbonate deposits being formed. Since most cave formations have formed relatively recently, formations such as stalactites and stalagmites have been quite useful in cross-calibrating the carbon record. What does one find in the calibration of carbon against actual ages? If one predicts a carbon age assuming that the ratio of carbon to carbon in the air has stayed constant, there is a slight error because this ratio has changed slightly.
Figure 9 shows that the carbon fraction in the air has decreased over the last 40, years by about a factor of two. This is attributed to a strengthening of the Earth's magnetic field during this time. A stronger magnetic field shields the upper atmosphere better from charged cosmic rays, resulting in less carbon production now than in the past.
Changes in the Earth's magnetic field are well documented. Complete reversals of the north and south magnetic poles have occurred many times over geologic history. A small amount of data beyond 40, years not shown in Fig. What change does this have on uncalibrated carbon ages? The bottom panel of Figure 9 shows the amount. Ratio of atmospheric carbon to carbon, relative to the present-day value top panel. Tree-ring data are from Stuiver et al. The offset is generally less than years over the last 10, years, but grows to about 6, years at 40, years before present.
Uncalibrated radiocarbon ages underestimate the actual ages. Note that a factor of two difference in the atmospheric carbon ratio, as shown in the top panel of Figure 9, does not translate to a factor of two offset in the age. Rather, the offset is equal to one half-life, or 5, years for carbon The initial portion of the calibration curve in Figure 9 has been widely available and well accepted for some time, so reported radiocarbon dates for ages up to 11, years generally give the calibrated ages unless otherwise stated.
The calibration curve over the portions extending to 40, years is relatively recent, but should become widely adopted as well. It is sometimes possible to date geologically young samples using some of the long-lived methods described above.
These methods may work on young samples, for example, if there is a relatively high concentration of the parent isotope in the sample. In that case, sufficient daughter isotope amounts are produced in a relatively short time. As an example, an article in Science magazine vol. There are other ways to date some geologically young samples. Besides the cosmogenic radionuclides discussed above, there is one other class of short-lived radionuclides on Earth.
These are ones produced by decay of the long-lived radionuclides given in the upper part of Table 1. As mentioned in the Uranium-Lead section, uranium does not decay immediately to a stable isotope, but decays through a number of shorter-lived radioisotopes until it ends up as lead.
While the uranium-lead system can measure intervals in the millions of years generally without problems from the intermediate isotopes, those intermediate isotopes with the longest half-lives span long enough time intervals for dating events less than several hundred thousand years ago.
Note that these intervals are well under a tenth of a percent of the half-lives of the long-lived parent uranium and thorium isotopes discussed earlier. Two of the most frequently-used of these "uranium-series" systems are uranium and thorium These are listed as the last two entries in Table 1, and are illustrated in Figure A schematic representation of the uranium decay chain, showing the longest-lived nuclides.
Half-lives are given in each box. Solid arrows represent direct decay, while dashed arrows indicate that there are one or more intermediate decays, with the longest intervening half-life given below the arrow. Like carbon, the shorter-lived uranium-series isotopes are constantly being replenished, in this case, by decaying uranium supplied to the Earth during its original creation. Following the example of carbon, you may guess that one way to use these isotopes for dating is to remove them from their source of replenishment.
This starts the dating clock. In carbon this happens when a living thing like a tree dies and no longer takes in carbonladen CO 2. For the shorter-lived uranium-series radionuclides, there needs to be a physical removal from uranium.
The chemistry of uranium and thorium are such that they are in fact easily removed from each other. Uranium tends to stay dissolved in water, but thorium is insoluble in water. So a number of applications of the thorium method are based on this chemical partition between uranium and thorium. Sediments at the bottom of the ocean have very little uranium relative to the thorium. Because of this, the uranium, and its contribution to the thorium abundance, can in many cases be ignored in sediments.
Thorium then behaves similarly to the long-lived parent isotopes we discussed earlier. It acts like a simple parent-daughter system, and it can be used to date sediments. On the other hand, calcium carbonates produced biologically such as in corals, shells, teeth, and bones take in small amounts of uranium, but essentially no thorium because of its much lower concentrations in the water. This allows the dating of these materials by their lack of thorium.
A brand-new coral reef will have essentially no thorium As it ages, some of its uranium decays to thorium While the thorium itself is radioactive, this can be corrected for. Comparison of uranium ages with ages obtained by counting annual growth bands of corals proves that the technique is.
The method has also been used to date stalactites and stalagmites from caves, already mentioned in connection with long-term calibration of the radiocarbon method. In fact, tens of thousands of uranium-series dates have been performed on cave formations around the world. Previously, dating of anthropology sites had to rely on dating of geologic layers above and below the artifacts.
But with improvements in this method, it is becoming possible to date the human and animal remains themselves. Work to date shows that dating of tooth enamel can be quite reliable. However, dating of bones can be more problematic, as bones are more susceptible to contamination by the surrounding soils. As with all dating, the agreement of two or more methods is highly recommended for confirmation of a measurement.
If the samples are beyond the range of radiocarbon e. We will digress briefly from radiometric dating to talk about other dating techniques. It is important to understand that a very large number of accurate dates covering the past , years has been obtained from many other methods besides radiometric dating.
We have already mentioned dendrochronology tree ring dating above. Dendrochronology is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of non-radiometric dating methods. Here we will look briefly at some other non-radiometric dating techniques. One of the best ways to measure farther back in time than tree rings is by using the seasonal variations in polar ice from Greenland and Antarctica.
There are a number of differences between snow layers made in winter and those made in spring, summer, and fall. These seasonal layers can be counted just like tree rings. The seasonal differences consist of a visual differences caused by increased bubbles and larger crystal size from summer ice compared to winter ice, b dust layers deposited each summer, c nitric acid concentrations, measured by electrical conductivity of the ice, d chemistry of contaminants in the ice, and e seasonal variations in the relative amounts of heavy hydrogen deuterium and heavy oxygen oxygen in the ice.
These isotope ratios are sensitive to the temperature at the time they fell as snow from the clouds. The heavy isotope is lower in abundance during the colder winter snows than it is in snow falling in spring and summer.
So the yearly layers of ice can be tracked by each of these five different indicators, similar to growth rings on trees. The different types of layers are summarized in Table III. Ice cores are obtained by drilling very deep holes in the ice caps on Greenland and Antarctica with specialized drilling rigs.
As the rigs drill down, the drill bits cut around a portion of the ice, capturing a long undisturbed "core" in the process.
These cores are carefully brought back to the surface in sections, where they are catalogued, and taken to research laboratories under refrigeration. A very large amount of work has been done on several deep ice cores up to 9, feet in depth.
Several hundred thousand measurements are sometimes made for a single technique on a single ice core. A continuous count of layers exists back as far as , years. In addition to yearly layering, individual strong events such as large-scale volcanic eruptions can be observed and correlated between ice cores. A number of historical eruptions as far back as Vesuvius nearly 2, years ago serve as benchmarks with which to determine the accuracy of the yearly layers as far down as around meters.
As one goes further down in the ice core, the ice becomes more compacted than near the surface, and individual yearly layers are slightly more difficult to observe. For this reason, there is some uncertainty as one goes back towards , years. Recently, absolute ages have been determined to 75, years for at least one location using cosmogenic radionuclides chlorine and beryllium G.
These agree with the ice flow models and the yearly layer counts. Note that there is no indication anywhere that these ice caps were ever covered by a large body of water, as some people with young-Earth views would expect. Polar ice core layers, counting back yearly layers, consist of the following:. Visual Layers Summer ice has more bubbles and larger crystal sizes Observed to 60, years ago Dust Layers Measured by laser light scattering; most dust is deposited during spring and summer Observed to , years ago Layering of Elec-trical Conductivity Nitric acid from the stratosphere is deposited in the springtime, and causes a yearly layer in electrical conductivity measurement Observed through 60, years ago Contaminant Chemistry Layers Soot from summer forest fires, chemistry of dust, occasional volcanic ash Observed through 2, years; some older eruptions noted Hydrogen and Oxygen Isotope Layering Indicates temperature of precipitation.
Heavy isotopes oxygen and deuterium are depleted more in winter. Yearly layers observed through 1, years; Trends observed much farther back in time Varves. Another layering technique uses seasonal variations in sedimentary layers deposited underwater.
The two requirements for varves to be useful in dating are 1 that sediments vary in character through the seasons to produce a visible yearly pattern, and 2 that the lake bottom not be disturbed after the layers are deposited. These conditions are most often met in small, relatively deep lakes at mid to high latitudes.
Shallower lakes typically experience an overturn in which the warmer water sinks to the bottom as winter approaches, but deeper lakes can have persistently thermally stratified temperature-layered water masses, leading to less turbulence, and better conditions for varve layers. Varves can be harvested by coring drills, somewhat similar to the harvesting of ice cores discussed above.
Overall, many hundreds of lakes have been studied for their varve patterns. Each yearly varve layer consists of a mineral matter brought in by swollen streams in the spring. Regular sequences of varves have been measured going back to about 35, years. The thicknesses of the layers and the types of material in them tells a lot about the climate of the time when the layers were deposited.
For example, pollens entrained in the layers can tell what types of plants were growing nearby at a particular time. Other annual layering methods. Besides tree rings, ice cores, and sediment varves, there are other processes that result in yearly layers that can be counted to determine an age.
Annual layering in coral reefs can be used to date sections of coral. Coral generally grows at rates of around 1 cm per year, and these layers are easily visible. As was mentioned in the uranium-series section, the counting of annual coral layers was used to verify the accuracy of the thorium method.
There is a way of dating minerals and pottery that does not rely directly on half-lives. Thermoluminescence dating, or TL dating, uses the fact that radioactive decays cause some electrons in a material to end up stuck in higher-energy orbits. The number of electrons in higher-energy orbits accumulates as a material experiences more natural radioactivity over time.
If the material is heated, these electrons can fall back to their original orbits, emitting a very tiny amount of light.
If the heating occurs in a laboratory furnace equipped with a very sensitive light detector, this light can be recorded. The term comes from putting together thermo , meaning heat, and luminescence , meaning to emit light.
By comparison of the amount of light emitted with the natural radioactivity rate the sample experienced, the age of the sample can be determined. TL dating can generally be used on samples less than half a million years old. TL dating and its related techniques have been cross calibrated with samples of known historical age and with radiocarbon and thorium dating. While TL dating does not usually pinpoint the age with as great an accuracy as these other conventional radiometric dating, it is most useful for applications such as pottery or fine-grained volcanic dust, where other dating methods do not work as well.
Electron spin resonance ESR. Also called electron paramagnetic resonance, ESR dating also relies on the changes in electron orbits and spins caused by radioactivity over time. However, ESR dating can be used over longer time periods, up to two million years, and works best on carbonates, such as in coral reefs and cave deposits. It has also seen extensive use in dating tooth enamel.
This dating method relies on measuring certain isotopes produced by cosmic ray impacts on exposed rock surfaces. Because cosmic rays constantly bombard meteorites flying through space, this method has long been used to date the ' flight time' of meteorites--that is the time from when they were chipped off a larger body like an asteroid to the time they land on Earth.
The cosmic rays produce small amounts of naturally-rare isotopes such as neon and helium-3, which can be measured in the laboratory. The cosmic-ray exposure ages of meteorites are usually around 10 million years, but can be up to a billion years for some iron meteorites. In the last fifteen years, people have also used cosmic ray exposure ages to date rock surfaces on the Earth. This is much more complicated because the Earth's magnetic field and atmosphere shield us from most of the cosmic rays.
Cosmic ray exposure calibrations must take into. Nevertheless, terrestrial cosmic-ray exposure dating has been shown to be useful in many cases. We have covered a lot of convincing evidence that the Earth was created a very long time ago. The agreement of many different dating methods, both radiometric and non-radiometric, over hundreds of thousands of samples, is very convincing.
Yet, some Christians question whether we can believe something so far back in the past. My answer is that it is similar to believing in other things of the past.
It only differs in degree. Why do you believe Abraham Lincoln ever lived? Because it would take an extremely elaborate scheme to make up his existence, including forgeries, fake photos, and many other things, and besides, there is no good reason to simply have made him up. Well, the situation is very similar for the dating of rocks, only we have rock records rather than historical records.
The last three points deserve more attention. Some Christians have argued that something may be slowly changing with time so all the ages look older than they really are.
The only two quantities in the exponent of a decay rate equation are the half-life and the time. So for ages to appear longer than actual, all the half-lives would have to be changing in sync with each other. One could consider that time itself was changing if that happened remember that our clocks are now standardized to atomic clocks! Beyond this, scientists have now used a "time machine" to prove that the half-lives of radioactive species were the same millions of years ago.
This time machine does not allow people to actually go back in time, but it does allow scientists to observe ancient events from a long way away.
The time machine is called the telescope. Because God's universe is so large, images from distant events take a long time to get to us. Telescopes allow us to see supernovae exploding stars at distances so vast that the pictures take hundreds of thousands to millions of years to arrive at the Earth. So the events we see today actually occurred hundreds of thousands to millions of years ago. And what do we see when we look back in time? Much of the light following a supernova blast is powered by newly created radioactive parents.
So we observe radiometric decay in the supernova light. The half-lives of decays occurring hundreds of thousands of years ago are thus carefully recorded! These half-lives completely agree with the half-lives measured from decays occurring today.
We must conclude that all evidence points towards unchanging radioactive half-lives. Some individuals have suggested that the speed of light must have been different in the past, and that the starlight has not really taken so long to reach us. However, the astronomical evidence mentioned above also suggests that the speed of light has not changed, or else we would see a significant apparent change in the half-lives of these ancient radioactive decays.
Some doubters have tried to dismiss geologic dating with a sleight of hand by saying that no rocks are completely closed systems that is, that no rocks are so isolated from their surroundings that they have not lost or gained some of the isotopes used for dating.
Speaking from an extreme technical viewpoint this might be true--perhaps 1 atom out of 1,,,, of a certain isotope has leaked out of nearly all rocks, but such a change would make an immeasurably small change in the result.
The real question to ask is, "is the rock sufficiently close to a closed system that the results will be same as a really closed system? These books detail experiments showing, for a given dating system, which minerals work all of the time, which minerals work under some certain conditions, and which minerals are likely to lose atoms and give incorrect results. Understanding these conditions is part of the science of geology.
Geologists are careful to use the most reliable methods whenever possible, and as discussed above, to test for agreement between different methods. Some people have tried to defend a young Earth position by saying that the half-lives of radionuclides can in fact be changed, and that this can be done by certain little-understood particles such as neutrinos, muons, or cosmic rays.
This is stretching it. While certain particles can cause nuclear changes, they do not change the half-lives. The nuclear changes are well understood and are nearly always very minor in rocks. In fact the main nuclear changes in rocks are the very radioactive decays we are talking about. There are only three quite technical instances where a half-life changes, and these do not affect the dating methods we have discussed. Only one technical exception occurs under terrestrial conditions, and this is not for an isotope used for dating.
According to theory, electron-capture is the most likely type of decay to show changes with pressure or chemical combination, and this should be most pronounced for very light elements.
The artificially-produced isotope, beryllium-7 has been shown to change by up to 1. In another experiment, a half-life change of a small fraction of a percent was detected when beryllium-7 was subjected to , atmospheres of pressure, equivalent to depths greater than miles inside the Earth Science , , All known rocks, with the possible exception of diamonds, are from much shallower depths. In fact, beryllium-7 is not used for dating rocks, as it has a half-life of only 54 days, and heavier atoms are even less subject to these minute changes, so the dates of rocks made by electron-capture decays would only be off by at most a few hundredths of a percent.
Physical conditions at the center of stars or for cosmic rays differ very greatly from anything experienced in rocks on or in the Earth. Yet, self-proclaimed "experts" often confuse these conditions. Cosmic rays are very, very high-energy atomic nuclei flying through space. The electron-capture decay mentioned above does not take place in cosmic rays until they slow down. This is because the fast-moving cosmic ray nuclei do not have electrons surrounding them, which are necessary for this form of decay.
Another case is material inside of stars, which is in a plasma state where electrons are not bound to atoms. In the extremely hot stellar environment, a completely different kind of decay can occur. This has been observed for dysprosium and rhenium under very specialized conditions simulating the interior of stars Phys.
All normal matter, such as everything on Earth, the Moon, meteorites, etc. As an example of incorrect application of these conditions to dating, one young-Earth proponent suggested that God used plasma conditions when He created the Earth a few thousand years ago.
This writer suggested that the rapid decay rate of rhenium under extreme plasma conditions might explain why rocks give very old ages instead of a young-Earth age. Intrusive igneous rocks are formed from magma that cools and solidifies within the crust of a planet, surrounded by pre-existing rock called country rock ; the magma cools slowly and, as a result, these rocks are coarse-grained. The mineral grains in such rocks can generally be identified with the naked eye.
Intrusive rocks can also be classified according to the shape and size of the intrusive body and its relation to the other formations into which it intrudes. Typical intrusive formations are batholiths , stocks, laccoliths , sills and dikes.
When the magma solidifies within the earth's crust, it cools slowly forming coarse textured rocks, such as granite, gabbro, or diorite. The central cores of major mountain ranges consist of intrusive igneous rocks, usually granite. When exposed by erosion, these cores called batholiths may occupy huge areas of the Earth's surface. Intrusive igneous rocks that form at depth within the crust are termed plutonic or abyssal rocks and are usually coarse-grained.
Intrusive igneous rocks that form near the surface are termed subvolcanic or hypabyssal rocks and they are usually medium-grained. Hypabyssal rocks are less common than plutonic or volcanic rocks and often form dikes, sills, laccoliths, lopoliths , or phacoliths. Extrusive igneous rocks, also known as volcanic rocks, are formed at the crust's surface as a result of the partial melting of rocks within the mantle and crust.
Extrusive igneous rocks cool and solidify quicker than intrusive igneous rocks. They are formed by the cooling of molten magma on the earth's surface. The magma, which is brought to the surface through fissures or volcanic eruptions, solidifies at a faster rate. Hence such rocks are smooth, crystalline and fine-grained. Basalt is a common extrusive igneous rock and forms lava flows, lava sheets and lava plateaus. Some kinds of basalt solidify to form long polygonal columns.
The molten rock, with or without suspended crystals and gas bubbles, is called magma. It rises because it is less dense than the rock from which it was created. When magma reaches the surface from beneath water or air, it is called lava. Eruptions of volcanoes into air are termed subaerial , whereas those occurring underneath the ocean are termed submarine.
Black smokers and mid-ocean ridge basalt are examples of submarine volcanic activity. The volume of extrusive rock erupted annually by volcanoes varies with plate tectonic setting. Extrusive rock is produced in the following proportions: Magma that erupts from a volcano behaves according to its viscosity , determined by temperature, composition, crystal content and the amount of silica.
High-temperature magma, most of which is basaltic in composition, behaves in a manner similar to thick oil and, as it cools, treacle. Long, thin basalt flows with pahoehoe surfaces are common. Intermediate composition magma, such as andesite , tends to form cinder cones of intermingled ash , tuff and lava, and may have a viscosity similar to thick, cold molasses or even rubber when erupted. Felsic magma, such as rhyolite , is usually erupted at low temperature and is up to 10, times as viscous as basalt.
Volcanoes with rhyolitic magma commonly erupt explosively, and rhyolitic lava flows are typically of limited extent and have steep margins, because the magma is so viscous. Felsic and intermediate magmas that erupt often do so violently, with explosions driven by the release of dissolved gases—typically water vapour, but also carbon dioxide.
Explosively erupted pyroclastic material is called tephra and includes tuff , agglomerate and ignimbrite. Fine volcanic ash is also erupted and forms ash tuff deposits, which can often cover vast areas. Because lava usually cools and crystallizes rapidly, it is usually fine-grained. If the cooling has been so rapid as to prevent the formation of even small crystals after extrusion, the resulting rock may be mostly glass such as the rock obsidian. If the cooling of the lava happened more slowly, the rock would be coarse-grained.
Because the minerals are mostly fine-grained, it is much more difficult to distinguish between the different types of extrusive igneous rocks than between different types of intrusive igneous rocks. Generally, the mineral constituents of fine-grained extrusive igneous rocks can only be determined by examination of thin sections of the rock under a microscope , so only an approximate classification can usually be made in the field.
Igneous rocks are classified according to mode of occurrence, texture, mineralogy, chemical composition, and the geometry of the igneous body. The classification of the many types of different igneous rocks can provide us with important information about the conditions under which they formed. Two important variables used for the classification of igneous rocks are particle size, which largely depends on the cooling history, and the mineral composition of the rock.
Feldspars , quartz or feldspathoids , olivines , pyroxenes , amphiboles , and micas are all important minerals in the formation of almost all igneous rocks, and they are basic to the classification of these rocks.
All other minerals present are regarded as nonessential in almost all igneous rocks and are called accessory minerals. Types of igneous rocks with other essential minerals are very rare, and these rare rocks include those with essential carbonates. In a simplified classification, igneous rock types are separated on the basis of the type of feldspar present, the presence or absence of quartz , and in rocks with no feldspar or quartz, the type of iron or magnesium minerals present. Rocks containing quartz silica in composition are silica-oversaturated.
Rocks with feldspathoids are silica-undersaturated, because feldspathoids cannot coexist in a stable association with quartz. Igneous rocks that have crystals large enough to be seen by the naked eye are called phaneritic ; those with crystals too small to be seen are called aphanitic. Generally speaking, phaneritic implies an intrusive origin; aphanitic an extrusive one. An igneous rock with larger, clearly discernible crystals embedded in a finer-grained matrix is termed porphyry.
Porphyritic texture develops when some of the crystals grow to considerable size before the main mass of the magma crystallizes as finer-grained, uniform material.
Igneous rocks are classified on the basis of texture and composition. I thought it would be useful to present an example where the geology is simple, and unsurprisingly, the method does work well, to show the quality of data that would have to be invalidated before a major revision of the geologic time scale could be accepted by conventional scientists.
Geochronologists do not claim that radiometric dating is foolproof no scientific method is , but it does work reliably for most samples. It is these highly consistent and reliable samples, rather than the tricky ones, that have to be falsified for "young Earth" theories to have any scientific plausibility, not to mention the need to falsify huge amounts of evidence from other techniques.
This document is partly based on a prior posting composed in reply to Ted Holden. My thanks to both him and other critics for motivating me. Much of the Earth's geology consists of successional layers of different rock types, piled one on top of another. The most common rocks observed in this form are sedimentary rocks derived from what were formerly sediments , and extrusive igneous rocks e. The layers of rock are known as "strata", and the study of their succession is known as "stratigraphy".
Fundamental to stratigraphy are a set of simple principles, based on elementary geometry, empirical observation of the way these rocks are deposited today, and gravity. A few principles were recognized and specified later.
An early summary of them is found in Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology , published in , and does not differ greatly from a modern formulation:. Note that these are principles. In no way are they meant to imply there are no exceptions. For example, the principle of superposition is based, fundamentally, on gravity. In order for a layer of material to be deposited, something has to be beneath it to support it.
It can't float in mid-air, particularly if the material involved is sand, mud, or molten rock. The principle of superposition therefore has a clear implication for the relative age of a vertical succession of strata. There are situations where it potentially fails -- for example, in cave deposits. In this situation, the cave contents are younger than both the bedrock below the cave and the suspended roof above.
However, note that because of the " principle of cross-cutting relationships" , careful examination of the contact between the cave infill and the surrounding rock will reveal the true relative age relationships, as will the "principle of inclusion" if fragments of the surrounding rock are found within the infill.
Cave deposits also often have distinctive structures of their own e. These geological principles are not assumptions either. Each of them is a testable hypothesis about the relationships between rock units and their characteristics. They are applied by geologists in the same sense that a "null hypothesis" is in statistics -- not necessarily correct, just testable.
In the last or more years of their application, they are often valid, but geologists do not assume they are. They are the "initial working hypotheses" to be tested further by data. Using these principles, it is possible to construct an interpretation of the sequence of events for any geological situation, even on other planets e.
The simplest situation for a geologist is a "layer cake" succession of sedimentary or extrusive igneous rock units arranged in nearly horizontal layers. In such a situation, the " principle of superposition" is easily applied, and the strata towards the bottom are older, those towards the top are younger.
For example, wave ripples have their pointed crests on the "up" side, and more rounded troughs on the "down" side. Many other indicators are commonly present, including ones that can even tell you the angle of the depositional surface at the time "geopetal structures" , "assuming" that gravity was "down" at the time, which isn't much of an assumption: In more complicated situations, like in a mountain belt, there are often faults, folds, and other structural complications that have deformed and "chopped up" the original stratigraphy.
Despite this, the "principle of cross cutting relationships" can be used to determine the sequence of deposition, folds, and faults based on their intersections -- if folds and faults deform or cut across the sedimentary layers and surfaces, then they obviously came after deposition of the sediments.
You can't deform a structure e. Even in complex situations of multiple deposition, deformation, erosion, deposition, and repeated events, it is possible to reconstruct the sequence of events. Even if the folding is so intense that some of the strata is now upside down, this fact can be recognized with "way up" indicators.
No matter what the geologic situation, these basic principles reliably yield a reconstructed history of the sequence of events, both depositional, erosional, deformational, and others, for the geology of a region. This reconstruction is tested and refined as new field information is collected, and can be and often is done completely independently of anything to do with other methods e.
The reconstructed history of events forms a "relative time scale", because it is possible to tell that event A occurred prior to event B, which occurred prior to event C, regardless of the actual duration of time between them.
Sometimes this study is referred to as "event stratigraphy", a term that applies regardless of the type of event that occurs biologic, sedimentologic, environmental, volcanic, magnetic, diagenetic, tectonic, etc.
These simple techniques have widely and successfully applied since at least the early s, and by the early s, geologists had recognized that many obvious similarities existed in terms of the independently-reconstructed sequence of geologic events observed in different parts of the world.
One of the earliest relative time scales based upon this observation was the subdivision of the Earth's stratigraphy and therefore its history , into the "Primary", "Secondary", "Tertiary", and later "Quaternary" strata based mainly on characteristic rock types in Europe.
The latter two subdivisions, in an emended form, are still used today by geologists. The earliest, "Primary" is somewhat similar to the modern Paleozoic and Precambrian, and the "Secondary" is similar to the modern Mesozoic. Another observation was the similarity of the fossils observed within the succession of strata, which leads to the next topic.
As geologists continued to reconstruct the Earth's geologic history in the s and early s, they quickly recognized that the distribution of fossils within this history was not random -- fossils occurred in a consistent order. This was true at a regional, and even a global scale.
Furthermore, fossil organisms were more unique than rock types, and much more varied, offering the potential for a much more precise subdivision of the stratigraphy and events within it. The recognition of the utility of fossils for more precise "relative dating" is often attributed to William Smith, a canal engineer who observed the fossil succession while digging through the rocks of southern England.
But scientists like Albert Oppel hit upon the same principles at about about the same time or earlier. In Smith's case, by using empirical observations of the fossil succession, he was able to propose a fine subdivision of the rocks and map out the formations of southern England in one of the earliest geological maps Other workers in the rest of Europe, and eventually the rest of the world, were able to compare directly to the same fossil succession in their areas, even when the rock types themselves varied at finer scale.
For example, everywhere in the world, trilobites were found lower in the stratigraphy than marine reptiles. Dinosaurs were found after the first occurrence of land plants, insects, and amphibians. Spore-bearing land plants like ferns were always found before the occurrence of flowering plants. The observation that fossils occur in a consistent succession is known as the "principle of faunal and floral succession".
The study of the succession of fossils and its application to relative dating is known as "biostratigraphy". Each increment of time in the stratigraphy could be characterized by a particular assemblage of fossil organisms, formally termed a biostratigraphic "zone" by the German paleontologists Friedrich Quenstedt and Albert Oppel.
These zones could then be traced over large regions, and eventually globally. Groups of zones were used to establish larger intervals of stratigraphy, known as geologic "stages" and geologic "systems". The time corresponding to most of these intervals of rock became known as geologic "ages" and "periods", respectively.
By the end of the s, most of the presently-used geologic periods had been established based on their fossil content and their observed relative position in the stratigraphy e.
These terms were preceded by decades by other terms for various geologic subdivisions, and although there was subsequent debate over their exact boundaries e. By the s, fossil succession had been studied to an increasing degree, such that the broad history of life on Earth was well understood, regardless of the debate over the names applied to portions of it, and where exactly to make the divisions.
All paleontologists recognized unmistakable trends in morphology through time in the succession of fossil organisms. This observation led to attempts to explain the fossil succession by various mechanisms. Perhaps the best known example is Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.
Note that chronologically, fossil succession was well and independently established long before Darwin's evolutionary theory was proposed in Fossil succession and the geologic time scale are constrained by the observed order of the stratigraphy -- basically geometry -- not by evolutionary theory.
For almost the next years, geologists operated using relative dating methods, both using the basic principles of geology and fossil succession biostratigraphy. Various attempts were made as far back as the s to scientifically estimate the age of the Earth, and, later, to use this to calibrate the relative time scale to numeric values refer to "Changing views of the history of the Earth" by Richard Harter and Chris Stassen.
Most of the early attempts were based on rates of deposition, erosion, and other geological processes, which yielded uncertain time estimates, but which clearly indicated Earth history was at least million or more years old.
A challenge to this interpretation came in the form of Lord Kelvin's William Thomson's calculations of the heat flow from the Earth, and the implication this had for the age -- rather than hundreds of millions of years, the Earth could be as young as tens of million of years old. This evaluation was subsequently invalidated by the discovery of radioactivity in the last years of the 19th century, which was an unaccounted for source of heat in Kelvin's original calculations.
With it factored in, the Earth could be vastly older. Estimates of the age of the Earth again returned to the prior methods. The discovery of radioactivity also had another side effect, although it was several more decades before its additional significance to geology became apparent and the techniques became refined.
Because of the chemistry of rocks, it was possible to calculate how much radioactive decay had occurred since an appropriate mineral had formed, and how much time had therefore expired, by looking at the ratio between the original radioactive isotope and its product, if the decay rate was known. Many geological complications and measurement difficulties existed, but initial attempts at the method clearly demonstrated that the Earth was very old.
Iamges: radiometric dating igneous rocks
Major Eons, Eras, Periods and Epochs. Mineral concentrates from the dacite, which formed in , give K-Ar 'ages 'from 0. The Gunnedah Basin sequence includes a number of basic intrusions of Mesozoic and Tertiary rocks.
These are university-level lecture notes describing radiometric dating and related topics. The leakage model supposes an incredible improbability. Geologists themselves recognize the problem of mistaking non-trackway imperfections as fission tracks.
This is conclusive evidence rockw the solar system was created longer ago than the span of these half lives! Likewise, the other non-isochron dating radiometric dating igneous rocks, such as uranium-lead, also fall short because who is to say wh en the "zero date" was when there was only parent isotope and no daughter? For a rock of the same age, the slope on the neodymium-samarium plots radiometrc be less than on a rubidium-strontium plot because the half-life is longer. Slusherp. There is perhaps no beguilement more insidious and dangerous than an elaborate and elegant mathematical process built upon unfortified premises. But, how is one to do this if they are so easily confused with radiometric dating igneous rocks trackways? It happens in all sciences.
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