Radiometric Dating: Methods, Uses & the Significance of Half-Life
These lines are called "isochrons". The steeper the slope of the isochron, the more half lives it represents. When the fraction of rubidium is plotted against the fraction of strontium for a number of different minerals from the same magma an isochron is obtained. If the points lie on a straight line, this indicates that the data is consistent and probably accurate. An example of this can be found in Strahler, Fig If the strontium isotope was not present in the mineral at the time it was formed from the molten magma, then the geometry of the plotted isochron lines requires that they all intersect the origin, as shown in figure However, if strontium 87 was present in the mineral when it was first formed from molten magma, that amount will be shown by an intercept of the isochron lines on the y-axis, as shown in Fig Thus it is possible to correct for strontium initially present.
The age of the sample can be obtained by choosing the origin at the y intercept.
Note that the amounts of rubidium 87 and strontium 87 are given as ratios to an inert isotope, strontium However, in calculating the ratio of Rb87 to Sr87, we can use a simple analytical geometry solution to the plotted data. Again referring to Fig. Since the half-life of Rb87 is When properly carried out, radioactive dating test procedures have shown consistent and close agreement among the various methods. If the same result is obtained sample after sample, using different test procedures based on different decay sequences, and carried out by different laboratories, that is a pretty good indication that the age determinations are accurate.
Of course, test procedures, like anything else, can be screwed up. Mistakes can be made at the time a procedure is first being developed.
Creationists seize upon any isolated reports of improperly run tests and try to categorize them as representing general shortcomings of the test procedure. This like saying if my watch isn't running, then all watches are useless for keeping time. Creationists also attack radioactive dating with the argument that half-lives were different in the past than they are at present. There is no more reason to believe that than to believe that at some time in the past iron did not rust and wood did not burn.
Furthermore, astronomical data show that radioactive half-lives in elements in stars billions of light years away is the same as presently measured. On pages and of The Genesis Flood, creationist authors Whitcomb and Morris present an argument to try to convince the reader that ages of mineral specimens determined by radioactivity measurements are much greater than the "true" i. The mathematical procedures employed are totally inconsistent with reality.
Henry Morris has a PhD in Hydraulic Engineering, so it would seem that he would know better than to author such nonsense. Apparently, he did know better, because he qualifies the exposition in a footnote stating:. This discussion is not meant to be an exact exposition of radiogenic age computation; the relation is mathematically more complicated than the direct proportion assumed for the illustration. Nevertheless, the principles described are substantially applicable to the actual relationship.
Morris states that the production rate of an element formed by radioactive decay is constant with time. This is not true, although for a short period of time compared to the length of the half life the change in production rate may be very small. Radioactive elements decay by half-lives. At the end of the first half life, only half of the radioactive element remains, and therefore the production rate of the element formed by radioactive decay will be only half of what it was at the beginning. The authors state on p.
If these elements existed also as the result of direct creation, it is reasonable to assume that they existed in these same proportions. Say, then, that their initial amounts are represented by quantities of A and cA respectively. Morris makes a number of unsupported assumptions: This is not correct; radioactive elements decay by half lives, as explained in the first paragraphs of this post.
Radiometric dating - Simple English Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
There is absolutely no evidence to support this assumption, and a great deal of evidence that electromagnetic radiation does not affect the rate of decay of terrestrial radioactive elements. He sums it up with the equations: He then calculates an "age" for the first element by dividing its quantity by its decay rate, R; and an "age" for the second element by dividing its quantity by its decay rate, cR.
It's obvious from the above two equations that the result shows the same age for both elements, which is: Of course, the mathematics are completely wrong.
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The correct relation can obtained by rearranging the equation given at the beginning of this post: For a half life of years, the following table shows the fraction remaining for various time periods:. By way of contrast, the following table displays the incorrect values calculated on the basis of the Morris straight line relationship: In all his mathematics, R is taken as a constant value. We may therefore set R as equal to the initial rate in the above table:.
Calculating, using the Morris equation: Morris' equations would indicate that after years the amount of parent element would be completely gone, but the daughter element would nevertheless continue to be formed! In 5, years half of the 14 C in a sample will decay see figure 1, below. Therefore, if we know the 14 C: Unfortunately, neither are straightforward to determine. The amount of 14 C in the atmosphere, and therefore in plants and animals, has not always been constant.
For instance, the amount varies according to how many cosmic rays reach Earth. Luckily, we can measure these fluctuations in samples that are dated by other methods. Tree rings can be counted and their radiocarbon content measured. A huge amount of work is currently underway to extend and improve the calibration curve. In we could only calibrate radiocarbon dates until 26, years.
Now the curve extends tentatively to 50, years. Radiocarbon dates are presented in two ways because of this complication. The uncalibrated date is given with the unit BP radiocarbon years before The calibrated date is also presented, either in BC or AD or with the unit calBP calibrated before present - before The second difficulty arises from the extremely low abundance of 14 C. Many labs now use an Accelerator Mass Spectrometer AMS , a machine that can detect and measure the presence of different isotopes, to count the individual 14 C atoms in a sample. Australia has two machines dedicated to radiocarbon analysis, and they are out of reach for much of the developing world.
In addition, samples need to be thoroughly cleaned to remove carbon contamination from glues and soil before dating. This is particularly important for very old samples. Because of this, radiocarbon chemists are continually developing new methods to more effectively clean materials. These new techniques can have a dramatic effect on chronologies.
With the development of a new method of cleaning charcoal called ABOx-SC , Michael Bird helped to push back the date of arrival of the first humans in Australia by more than 10, years. Moving away from techniques, the most exciting thing about radiocarbon is what it reveals about our past and the world we live in. Radiocarbon dating was the first method that allowed archaeologists to place what they found in chronological order without the need for written records or coins. In the 19th and early 20th century incredibly patient and careful archaeologists would link pottery and stone tools in different geographical areas by similarities in shape and patterning.
Then, by using the idea that the styles of objects evolve, becoming increasing elaborate over time, they could place them in order relative to each other - a technique called seriation. In this way large domed tombs known as tholos or beehive tombs in Greece were thought to predate similar structures in the Scottish Island of Maeshowe.
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This supported the idea that the classical worlds of Greece and Rome were at the centre of all innovations. Some of the first radiocarbon dates produced showed that the Scottish tombs were thousands of years older than those in Greece.
The barbarians of the north were capable of designing complex structures similar to those in the classical world. Other high profile projects include the dating of the Turin Shroud to the medieval period, the dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls to around the time of Christ, and the somewhat controversial dating of the spectacular rock art at Chauvet Cave to c. Radiocarbon dating has also been used to date the extinction of the woolly mammoth and contributed to the debate over whether modern humans and Neanderthals met.
But 14 C is not just used in dating. Using the same techniques to measure 14 C content, we can examine ocean circulation and trace the movement of drugs around the body. But these are topics for separate articles.