Method of dating the earth

Geochronology is the science of determining the age of rocks , fossils , and sediments using signatures inherent in the rocks themselves. Absolute geochronology can be accomplished through radioactive isotopes, whereas relative geochronology is provided by tools such as palaeomagnetism and stable isotope ratios. By combining multiple geochronological and biostratigraphic indicators the precision of the recovered age can be improved. Geochronology is different in application from biostratigraphy , which is the science of assigning sedimentary rocks to a known geological period via describing, cataloging and comparing fossil floral and faunal assemblages. Biostratigraphy does not directly provide an absolute age determination of a rock, but merely places it within an interval of time at which that fossil assemblage is known to have coexisted.

The Age of the Earth

The age of the Earth is 4. Following the development of radiometric age-dating in the early 20th century, measurements of lead in uranium-rich minerals showed that some were in excess of a billion years old. It is hypothesised that the accretion of Earth began soon after the formation of the calcium-aluminium-rich inclusions and the meteorites. Because the time this accretion process took is not yet known, and predictions from different accretion models range from a few million up to about million years, the difference between the age of Earth and of the oldest rocks is difficult to determine.

It is also difficult to determine the exact age of the oldest rocks on Earth, exposed at the surface, as they are aggregates of minerals of possibly different ages. Studies of strata , the layering of rocks and earth, gave naturalists an appreciation that Earth may have been through many changes during its existence. These layers often contained fossilized remains of unknown creatures, leading some to interpret a progression of organisms from layer to layer.

Nicolas Steno in the 17th century was one of the first naturalists to appreciate the connection between fossil remains and strata. In the midth century, the naturalist Mikhail Lomonosov suggested that Earth had been created separately from, and several hundred thousand years before, the rest of the universe. Lomonosov's ideas were mostly speculative. In the Comte du Buffon tried to obtain a value for the age of Earth using an experiment: He created a small globe that resembled Earth in composition and then measured its rate of cooling.

This led him to estimate that Earth was about 75, years old. Other naturalists used these hypotheses to construct a history of Earth , though their timelines were inexact as they did not know how long it took to lay down stratigraphic layers. This was a challenge to the traditional view, which saw the history of Earth as static, [ citation needed ] with changes brought about by intermittent catastrophes.

Many naturalists were influenced by Lyell to become "uniformitarians" who believed that changes were constant and uniform. In , the physicist William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin published calculations that fixed the age of Earth at between 20 million and million years. His calculations did not account for heat produced via radioactive decay a then unknown process or, more significantly, convection inside the Earth, which allows the temperature in the upper mantle to remain high much longer, maintaining a high thermal gradient in the crust much longer.

Geologists such as Charles Lyell had trouble accepting such a short age for Earth. For biologists, even million years seemed much too short to be plausible. In Darwin's theory of evolution , the process of random heritable variation with cumulative selection requires great durations of time. According to modern biology, the total evolutionary history from the beginning of life to today has taken place since 3. In a lecture in , Darwin's great advocate, Thomas H.

Huxley , attacked Thomson's calculations, suggesting they appeared precise in themselves but were based on faulty assumptions. The physicist Hermann von Helmholtz in and astronomer Simon Newcomb in contributed their own calculations of 22 and 18 million years respectively to the debate: However, they assumed that the Sun was only glowing from the heat of its gravitational contraction.

The process of solar nuclear fusion was not yet known to science. In John Perry challenged Kelvin's figure on the basis of his assumptions on conductivity, and Oliver Heaviside entered the dialogue, considering it "a vehicle to display the ability of his operator method to solve problems of astonishing complexity. Other scientists backed up Thomson's figures. Charles Darwin 's son, the astronomer George H. Darwin , proposed that Earth and Moon had broken apart in their early days when they were both molten.

He calculated the amount of time it would have taken for tidal friction to give Earth its current hour day. His value of 56 million years added additional evidence that Thomson was on the right track. The last estimate Thomson gave, in , was: By their chemical nature, rock minerals contain certain elements and not others; but in rocks containing radioactive isotopes, the process of radioactive decay generates exotic elements over time.

By measuring the concentration of the stable end product of the decay, coupled with knowledge of the half life and initial concentration of the decaying element, the age of the rock can be calculated. In , Thomson had been made Lord Kelvin in appreciation of his many scientific accomplishments. Kelvin calculated the age of the Earth by using thermal gradients , and he arrived at an estimate of about million years. In , John Perry produced an age-of-Earth estimate of 2 to 3 billion years using a model of a convective mantle and thin crust, [26] however his work was largely ignored.

The discovery of radioactivity introduced another factor in the calculation. After Henri Becquerel 's initial discovery in , Marie and Pierre Curie discovered the radioactive elements polonium and radium in ; and in , Pierre Curie and Albert Laborde announced that radium produces enough heat to melt its own weight in ice in less than an hour. Geologists quickly realized that this upset the assumptions underlying most calculations of the age of Earth.

These had assumed that the original heat of the Earth and Sun had dissipated steadily into space, but radioactive decay meant that this heat had been continually replenished. George Darwin and John Joly were the first to point this out, in Radioactivity, which had overthrown the old calculations, yielded a bonus by providing a basis for new calculations, in the form of radiometric dating. Ernest Rutherford and Frederick Soddy jointly had continued their work on radioactive materials and concluded that radioactivity was due to a spontaneous transmutation of atomic elements.

In radioactive decay, an element breaks down into another, lighter element, releasing alpha, beta, or gamma radiation in the process. They also determined that a particular isotope of a radioactive element decays into another element at a distinctive rate. This rate is given in terms of a " half-life ", or the amount of time it takes half of a mass of that radioactive material to break down into its "decay product".

Some radioactive materials have short half-lives; some have long half-lives. Uranium and thorium have long half-lives, and so persist in Earth's crust, but radioactive elements with short half-lives have generally disappeared. This suggested that it might be possible to measure the age of Earth by determining the relative proportions of radioactive materials in geological samples.

In reality, radioactive elements do not always decay into nonradioactive "stable" elements directly, instead, decaying into other radioactive elements that have their own half-lives and so on, until they reach a stable element. These " decay chains ", such as the uranium-radium and thorium series, were known within a few years of the discovery of radioactivity and provided a basis for constructing techniques of radiometric dating.

The pioneers of radioactivity were chemist Bertram B. Boltwood and the energetic Rutherford. Boltwood had conducted studies of radioactive materials as a consultant, and when Rutherford lectured at Yale in , [28] Boltwood was inspired to describe the relationships between elements in various decay series. Late in , Rutherford took the first step toward radiometric dating by suggesting that the alpha particles released by radioactive decay could be trapped in a rocky material as helium atoms.

At the time, Rutherford was only guessing at the relationship between alpha particles and helium atoms, but he would prove the connection four years later. Soddy and Sir William Ramsay had just determined the rate at which radium produces alpha particles, and Rutherford proposed that he could determine the age of a rock sample by measuring its concentration of helium. He dated a rock in his possession to an age of 40 million years by this technique.

Rutherford wrote,. I came into the room, which was half dark, and presently spotted Lord Kelvin in the audience and realized that I was in trouble at the last part of my speech dealing with the age of the Earth, where my views conflicted with his. To my relief, Kelvin fell fast asleep, but as I came to the important point, I saw the old bird sit up, open an eye, and cock a baleful glance at me! Then a sudden inspiration came, and I said, "Lord Kelvin had limited the age of the Earth, provided no new source was discovered.

That prophetic utterance refers to what we are now considering tonight, radium! Rutherford assumed that the rate of decay of radium as determined by Ramsay and Soddy was accurate, and that helium did not escape from the sample over time. Rutherford's scheme was inaccurate, but it was a useful first step. Boltwood focused on the end products of decay series. In , he suggested that lead was the final stable product of the decay of radium. It was already known that radium was an intermediate product of the decay of uranium.

Rutherford joined in, outlining a decay process in which radium emitted five alpha particles through various intermediate products to end up with lead, and speculated that the radium-lead decay chain could be used to date rock samples. Boltwood did the legwork, and by the end of had provided dates for 26 separate rock samples, ranging from 92 to million years. He did not publish these results, which was fortunate because they were flawed by measurement errors and poor estimates of the half-life of radium.

Boltwood refined his work and finally published the results in Boltwood's paper pointed out that samples taken from comparable layers of strata had similar lead-to-uranium ratios, and that samples from older layers had a higher proportion of lead, except where there was evidence that lead had leached out of the sample. His studies were flawed by the fact that the decay series of thorium was not understood, which led to incorrect results for samples that contained both uranium and thorium.

However, his calculations were far more accurate than any that had been performed to that time. Refinements in the technique would later give ages for Boltwood's 26 samples of million to 2. Although Boltwood published his paper in a prominent geological journal, the geological community had little interest in radioactivity. Rutherford remained mildly curious about the issue of the age of Earth but did little work on it. Robert Strutt tinkered with Rutherford's helium method until and then ceased.

However, Strutt's student Arthur Holmes became interested in radiometric dating and continued to work on it after everyone else had given up. Holmes focused on lead dating, because he regarded the helium method as unpromising. He performed measurements on rock samples and concluded in that the oldest a sample from Ceylon was about 1. For example, he assumed that the samples had contained only uranium and no lead when they were formed. More important research was published in It showed that elements generally exist in multiple variants with different masses, or " isotopes ".

In the s, isotopes would be shown to have nuclei with differing numbers of the neutral particles known as " neutrons ". In that same year, other research was published establishing the rules for radioactive decay, allowing more precise identification of decay series. Many geologists felt these new discoveries made radiometric dating so complicated as to be worthless. His work was generally ignored until the s, though in Joseph Barrell , a professor of geology at Yale, redrew geological history as it was understood at the time to conform to Holmes's findings in radiometric dating.

Barrell's research determined that the layers of strata had not all been laid down at the same rate, and so current rates of geological change could not be used to provide accurate timelines of the history of Earth. Holmes' persistence finally began to pay off in , when the speakers at the yearly meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science came to a rough consensus that Earth was a few billion years old, and that radiometric dating was credible.

Holmes published The Age of the Earth, an Introduction to Geological Ideas in in which he presented a range of 1. No great push to embrace radiometric dating followed, however, and the die-hards in the geological community stubbornly resisted. They had never cared for attempts by physicists to intrude in their domain, and had successfully ignored them so far. Holmes, being one of the few people on Earth who was trained in radiometric dating techniques, was a committee member, and in fact wrote most of the final report.

Thus, Arthur Holmes' report concluded that radioactive dating was the only reliable means of pinning down geological time scales.

An artistic depiction of the major events in the history of Earth. Geochronology is the science of determining the age of rocks, fossils, and sediments using These techniques date metamorphic, igneous and volcanic rocks. They are also used. Using relative and radiometric dating methods, geologists are able to answer the Second, it is possible to determine the numerical age for fossils or earth.

Petrology Tulane University Prof. Stephen A. Nelson Radiometric Dating Prior to the best and most accepted age of the Earth was that proposed by Lord Kelvin based on the amount of time necessary for the Earth to cool to its present temperature from a completely liquid state. Although we now recognize lots of problems with that calculation, the age of 25 my was accepted by most physicists, but considered too short by most geologists. Then, in , radioactivity was discovered.

It is an accurate way to date specific geologic events. This is an enormous branch of geochemistry called Geochronology.

The age of the Earth is 4. Following the development of radiometric age-dating in the early 20th century, measurements of lead in uranium-rich minerals showed that some were in excess of a billion years old.

How is Earth's Age Calculated?

Compston and R. Pidgeon Nature A serious problem here is that all crystals from the same rock unit gave statistically valid information about that rock unit. In fact, the other crystals show such a confusion of information that a statistician could only conclude that no sensible dates could be extracted from the data. A further problem is that the 4. An unbiased observer would be forced to admit that this contradiction prevents any conclusion as to the age of the crystal.

Everything Worth Knowing About ... Scientific Dating Methods

When asked for your age, it's likely you won't slip with the exception of a recent birthday mistake. But for the sprawling sphere we call home, age is a much trickier matter. Before so-called radiometric dating, Earth's age was anybody's guess. Our planet was pegged at a youthful few thousand years old by Bible readers by counting all the "begats" since Adam as late as the end of the 19th century, with physicist Lord Kelvin providing another nascent estimate of million years. Kelvin defended this calculation throughout his life, even disputing Darwin's explanations of evolution as impossible in that time period. In , Marie Curie discovered the phenomenon of radioactivity, in which unstable atoms lose energy, or decay, by emitting radiation in the form of particles or electromagnetic waves. By physicist Ernest Rutherford showed how this decay process could act as a clock for dating old rocks. Meanwhile, Arthur Holmes was finishing up a geology degree at the Imperial College of Science in London where he developed the technique of dating rocks using the uranium-lead method.

Dating techniques are procedures used by scientists to determine the age of an object or a series of events.

David H. Bailey does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Creation 101: Radiometric Dating and the Age of the Earth

Despite seeming like a relatively stable place, the Earth's surface has changed dramatically over the past 4. Mountains have been built and eroded, continents and oceans have moved great distances, and the Earth has fluctuated from being extremely cold and almost completely covered with ice to being very warm and ice-free. These changes typically occur so slowly that they are barely detectable over the span of a human life, yet even at this instant, the Earth's surface is moving and changing. As these changes have occurred, organisms have evolved, and remnants of some have been preserved as fossils. A fossil can be studied to determine what kind of organism it represents, how the organism lived, and how it was preserved. However, by itself a fossil has little meaning unless it is placed within some context. The age of the fossil must be determined so it can be compared to other fossil species from the same time period. Understanding the ages of related fossil species helps scientists piece together the evolutionary history of a group of organisms. For example, based on the primate fossil record, scientists know that living primates evolved from fossil primates and that this evolutionary history took tens of millions of years. By comparing fossils of different primate species, scientists can examine how features changed and how primates evolved through time. However, the age of each fossil primate needs to be determined so that fossils of the same age found in different parts of the world and fossils of different ages can be compared.

Dating Rocks and Fossils Using Geologic Methods

Lisle Oct 27, Geology , Origins , Physics. We are told that scientists use a technique called radiometric dating to measure the age of rocks. We are also told that this method very reliably and consistently yields ages of millions to billions of years, thereby establishing beyond question that the earth is immensely old — a concept known as deep time. This apparently contradicts the biblical record in which we read that God created in six days, with Adam being made on the sixth day. From the listed genealogies, the creation of the universe happened about years ago.

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The good dates are confirmed using at least two different methods, ideally involving multiple independent labs for each method to cross-check results. Sometimes only one method is possible, reducing the confidence researchers have in the results. Kidding aside, dating a find is crucial for understanding its significance and relation to other fossils or artifacts. Methods fall into one of two categories: Before more precise absolute dating tools were possible, researchers used a variety of comparative approaches called relative dating. These methods — some of which are still used today — provide only an approximate spot within a previously established sequence: Think of it as ordering rather than dating.

Most people accept the current old-earth OE age estimate of around 4. This age is obtained from radiometric dating and is assumed by evolutionists to provide a sufficiently long time-frame for Darwinian evolution. And OE Christians theistic evolutionists see no problem with this dating whilst still accepting biblical creation, see Radiometric Dating - A Christian Perspective. This is the crucial point: Some claim Genesis in particular, and the Bible in general looks mythical from this standpoint. A full discussion of the topic must therefore include the current scientific challenge to the OE concept. This challenge is mainly headed by Creationism which teaches a young-earth YE theory.

Geologists often need to know the age of material that they find. They use absolute dating methods, sometimes called numerical dating, to give rocks an actual date, or date range, in number of years. This is different to relative dating, which only puts geological events in time order. Most absolute dates for rocks are obtained with radiometric methods. These use radioactive minerals in rocks as geological clocks.


How Do We Know How Old the Earth Is?
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