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Radioactive dating is a method of dating rocks and minerals using radioactive isotopes.
This method is useful for igneous and metamorphic rocks, which cannot be dated by the stratigraphic correlation method used for sedimentary rocks. Some do not change with time and form stable isotopes (i.e.
This technique uses the same minerals and rocks as for K-Ar dating but restricts measurements to the argon isotopic system which is not so affected by metamorphic and alteration events. The decay of 147Sm to 143Nd for dating rocks began in the mid-1970s and was widespread by the early 1980s.
It is useful for dating very old igneous and metamorphic rocks and also meteorites and other cosmic fragments.
those that form during chemical reactions without breaking down).
The unstable or more commonly known radioactive isotopes break down by radioactive decay into other isotopes.
However, there is a limited range in Sm-Nd isotopes in many igneous rocks, although metamorphic rocks that contain the mineral garnet are useful as this mineral has a large range in Sm-Nd isotopes.
This technique also helps in determining the composition and evolution of the Earth's mantle and bodies in the universe.
The amount of carbon isotopes within living organisms reaches an equilibrium value, on death no more is taken up, and the 14C present starts to decay at a known rate.
Some techniques place the sample in a nuclear reactor first to excite the isotopes present, then measure these isotopes using a mass spectrometer (such as in the argon-argon scheme).
Others place mineral grains under a special microscope, firing a laser beam at the grains which ionises the mineral and releases the isotopes.
However, potassium is very mobile during metamorphism and alteration, and so this technique is not used much for old rocks, but is useful for rocks of the Mesozoic and Cenozoic Eras, particularly unaltered igneous rocks.
Argon-Argon dating (39Ar-40Ar) This technique developed in the late 1960s but came into vogue in the early 1980s, through step-wise release of the isotopes.
The Re-Os isotopic system was first developed in the early 1960s, but recently has been improved for accurate age determinations.