Can radiocarbon dating be used to determine the age of dinosaur fossils

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how is carbon dating used to determine age of fossils

Additional complications come from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, and from the above-ground nuclear tests done in the s and s. A continuous count of layers exists back as far as , years. Most of the decay rates used for dating rocks are known to within two percent. 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. Such studies show that natural variations in CO2 are more dramatic than we have been led to believe, and that CO2 levels which regularly rise past ppm may be the norm-- not the exception-- during the last 11, years.


A rubidium-strontium three-isotope plot. Research has been ongoing since the s to determine what the proportion of 14 C in the atmosphere has been over the past fifty thousand years. This is much more complicated because the Earth's magnetic field and atmosphere shield us from most of the cosmic rays. Radiocarbon dating American inventions Carbon Conservation and restoration Isotopes of carbon Radioactivity Radiometric dating. Canon of Kings Lists of kings Limmu. Wiens has a PhD in Physics, with a minor in Geology. On the other hand, if there is some excess argon in the rock it will cause a different ratio of argon to argon for some or many of the heating steps, so the different heating steps will not agree with each other.

Overview of sim controls, model simplifications, and insights into student thinking PDF. Radioactive Dating Game inquiry. How do PhET simulations fit in my middle school program? Radio active Dating Game for Earth science. Radioactief bepalen van de ouderdom. Il gioco della Datazione radiometrica.

Spill om radioaktiv datering. Spel om radioaktiv tidfesting. Libby's first detector was a Geiger counter of his own design. He converted the carbon in his sample to lamp black soot and coated the inner surface of a cylinder with it. This cylinder was inserted into the counter in such a way that the counting wire was inside the sample cylinder, in order that there should be no material between the sample and the wire.

Libby's method was soon superseded by gas proportional counters , which were less affected by bomb carbon the additional 14 C created by nuclear weapons testing.

These counters record bursts of ionization caused by the beta particles emitted by the decaying 14 C atoms; the bursts are proportional to the energy of the particle, so other sources of ionization, such as background radiation, can be identified and ignored. The counters are surrounded by lead or steel shielding, to eliminate background radiation and to reduce the incidence of cosmic rays.

In addition, anticoincidence detectors are used; these record events outside the counter, and any event recorded simultaneously both inside and outside the counter is regarded as an extraneous event and ignored. The other common technology used for measuring 14 C activity is liquid scintillation counting, which was invented in , but which had to wait until the early s, when efficient methods of benzene synthesis were developed, to become competitive with gas counting; after liquid counters became the more common technology choice for newly constructed dating laboratories.

The counters work by detecting flashes of light caused by the beta particles emitted by 14 C as they interact with a fluorescing agent added to the benzene. Like gas counters, liquid scintillation counters require shielding and anticoincidence counters. For both the gas proportional counter and liquid scintillation counter, what is measured is the number of beta particles detected in a given time period.

This provides a value for the background radiation, which must be subtracted from the measured activity of the sample being dated to get the activity attributable solely to that sample's 14 C. In addition, a sample with a standard activity is measured, to provide a baseline for comparison. The ions are accelerated and passed through a stripper, which removes several electrons so that the ions emerge with a positive charge.

A particle detector then records the number of ions detected in the 14 C stream, but since the volume of 12 C and 13 C , needed for calibration is too great for individual ion detection, counts are determined by measuring the electric current created in a Faraday cup.

Any 14 C signal from the machine background blank is likely to be caused either by beams of ions that have not followed the expected path inside the detector, or by carbon hydrides such as 12 CH 2 or 13 CH. A 14 C signal from the process blank measures the amount of contamination introduced during the preparation of the sample.

These measurements are used in the subsequent calculation of the age of the sample. The calculations to be performed on the measurements taken depend on the technology used, since beta counters measure the sample's radioactivity whereas AMS determines the ratio of the three different carbon isotopes in the sample. To determine the age of a sample whose activity has been measured by beta counting, the ratio of its activity to the activity of the standard must be found.

To determine this, a blank sample of old, or dead, carbon is measured, and a sample of known activity is measured. The additional samples allow errors such as background radiation and systematic errors in the laboratory setup to be detected and corrected for.

The results from AMS testing are in the form of ratios of 12 C , 13 C , and 14 C , which are used to calculate Fm, the "fraction modern". Both beta counting and AMS results have to be corrected for fractionation. The calculation uses Libby's half-life of 5, years, not the more accurate modern value of 5, years.

The reliability of the results can be improved by lengthening the testing time. Radiocarbon dating is generally limited to dating samples no more than 50, years old, as samples older than that have insufficient 14 C to be measurable. Older dates have been obtained by using special sample preparation techniques, large samples, and very long measurement times.

These techniques can allow measurement of dates up to 60, and in some cases up to 75, years before the present. This was demonstrated in by an experiment run by the British Museum radiocarbon laboratory, in which weekly measurements were taken on the same sample for six months. The measurements included one with a range from about to about years ago, and another with a range from about to about Errors in procedure can also lead to errors in the results.

The calculations given above produce dates in radiocarbon years: To produce a curve that can be used to relate calendar years to radiocarbon years, a sequence of securely dated samples is needed which can be tested to determine their radiocarbon age. The study of tree rings led to the first such sequence: These factors affect all trees in an area, so examining tree-ring sequences from old wood allows the identification of overlapping sequences.

In this way, an uninterrupted sequence of tree rings can be extended far into the past. The first such published sequence, based on bristlecone pine tree rings, was created by Wesley Ferguson. Suess said he drew the line showing the wiggles by "cosmic schwung ", by which he meant that the variations were caused by extraterrestrial forces.

It was unclear for some time whether the wiggles were real or not, but they are now well-established. A calibration curve is used by taking the radiocarbon date reported by a laboratory, and reading across from that date on the vertical axis of the graph. The point where this horizontal line intersects the curve will give the calendar age of the sample on the horizontal axis. This is the reverse of the way the curve is constructed: Over the next thirty years many calibration curves were published using a variety of methods and statistical approaches.

The improvements to these curves are based on new data gathered from tree rings, varves , coral , plant macrofossils , speleothems , and foraminifera. The INTCAL13 data includes separate curves for the northern and southern hemispheres, as they differ systematically because of the hemisphere effect; there is also a separate marine calibration curve.

The resulting curve can then be matched to the actual calibration curve by identifying where, in the range suggested by the radiocarbon dates, the wiggles in the calibration curve best match the wiggles in the curve of sample dates.

This "wiggle-matching" technique can lead to more precise dating than is possible with individual radiocarbon dates. Bayesian statistical techniques can be applied when there are several radiocarbon dates to be calibrated.

For example, if a series of radiocarbon dates is taken from different levels in a given stratigraphic sequence, Bayesian analysis can help determine if some of the dates should be discarded as anomalies, and can use the information to improve the output probability distributions. Several formats for citing radiocarbon results have been used since the first samples were dated.

As of , the standard format required by the journal Radiocarbon is as follows. For example, the uncalibrated date "UtC Related forms are sometimes used: Calibrated dates should also identify any programs, such as OxCal, used to perform the calibration. A key concept in interpreting radiocarbon dates is archaeological association: It frequently happens that a sample for radiocarbon dating can be taken directly from the object of interest, but there are also many cases where this is not possible.

Metal grave goods, for example, cannot be radiocarbon dated, but they may be found in a grave with a coffin, charcoal, or other material which can be assumed to have been deposited at the same time. In these cases a date for the coffin or charcoal is indicative of the date of deposition of the grave goods, because of the direct functional relationship between the two. There are also cases where there is no functional relationship, but the association is reasonably strong: Contamination is of particular concern when dating very old material obtained from archaeological excavations and great care is needed in the specimen selection and preparation.

In , Thomas Higham and co-workers suggested that many of the dates published for Neanderthal artefacts are too recent because of contamination by "young carbon". As a tree grows, only the outermost tree ring exchanges carbon with its environment, so the age measured for a wood sample depends on where the sample is taken from.

This means that radiocarbon dates on wood samples can be older than the date at which the tree was felled. In addition, if a piece of wood is used for multiple purposes, there may be a significant delay between the felling of the tree and the final use in the context in which it is found.

Another example is driftwood, which may be used as construction material. It is not always possible to recognize re-use. Other materials can present the same problem: A separate issue, related to re-use, is that of lengthy use, or delayed deposition. For example, a wooden object that remains in use for a lengthy period will have an apparent age greater than the actual age of the context in which it is deposited. The Pleistocene is a geological epoch that began about 2.

The Holocene , the current geological epoch, begins about 11, years ago, when the Pleistocene ends. Before the advent of radiocarbon dating, the fossilized trees had been dated by correlating sequences of annually deposited layers of sediment at Two Creeks with sequences in Scandinavia.

This led to estimates that the trees were between 24, and 19, years old, [82] and hence this was taken to be the date of the last advance of the Wisconsin glaciation before its final retreat marked the end of the Pleistocene in North America.

This result was uncalibrated, as the need for calibration of radiocarbon ages was not yet understood. Further results over the next decade supported an average date of 11, BP, with the results thought to be most accurate averaging 11, BP. There was initial resistance to these results on the part of Ernst Antevs , the palaeobotanist who had worked on the Scandinavian varve series, but his objections were eventually discounted by other geologists.

Years Samarium Neodymium billion Rubidium Strontium Isotopes with shorter half-lives cannot date very ancient events because all of the atoms of the parent isotope would have already decayed away, like an hourglass left sitting with all the sand at the bottom. Isotopes with relatively short half-lives are useful for dating correspondingly shorter intervals, and can usually do so with greater accuracy, just as you would use a stopwatch rather than a grandfather clock to time a meter dash.

On the other hand, you would use a calendar, not a clock, to record time intervals of several weeks or more. The half-lives have all been measured directly either by using a radiation detector to count the number of atoms decaying in a given amount of time from a known amount of the parent material, or by measuring the ratio of daughter to parent atoms in a sample that originally consisted completely of parent atoms.

Work on radiometric dating first started shortly after the turn of the 20th century, but progress was relatively slow before the late. However, by now we have had over fifty years to measure and re-measure the half-lives for many of the dating techniques.

Very precise counting of the decay events or the daughter atoms can be done, so while the number of, say, rhenium atoms decaying in 50 years is a very small fraction of the total, the resulting osmium atoms can be very precisely counted. For example, recall that only one gram of material contains over 10 21 1 with 21 zeros behind atoms. Even if only one trillionth of the atoms decay in one year, this is still millions of decays, each of which can be counted by a radiation detector!

The uncertainties on the half-lives given in the table are all very small. There is no evidence of any of the half-lives changing over time. In fact, as discussed below, they have been observed to not change at all over hundreds of thousands of years. Examples of Dating Methods for Igneous Rocks. Now let's look at how the actual dating methods work. Igneous rocks are good candidates for dating. Recall that for igneous rocks the event being dated is when the rock was formed from magma or lava.

When the molten material cools and hardens, the atoms are no longer free to move about. Daughter atoms that result from radioactive decays occurring after the rock cools are frozen in the place where they were made within the rock.

These atoms are like the sand grains accumulating in the bottom of the hourglass. Determining the age of a rock is a two-step process. First one needs to measure the number of daughter atoms and the number of remaining parent atoms and calculate the ratio between them. Then the half-life is used to calculate the time it took to produce that ratio of parent atoms to daughter atoms. However, there is one complication. One cannot always assume that there were no daughter atoms to begin with.

It turns out that there are some cases where one can make that assumption quite reliably. But in most cases the initial amount of the daughter product must be accurately determined. Most of the time one can use the different amounts of parent and daughter present in different minerals within the rock to tell how much daughter was originally present. Each dating mechanism deals with this problem in its own way.

Some types of dating work better in some rocks; others are better in other rocks, depending on the rock composition and its age. Let's examine some of the different dating mechanisms now. Potassium is an abundant element in the Earth's crust.

One isotope, potassium, is radioactive and decays to two different daughter products, calcium and argon, by two different decay methods. This is not a problem because the production ratio of these two daughter products is precisely known, and is always constant: It is possible to date some rocks by the potassium-calcium method, but this is not often done because it is hard to determine how much calcium was initially present. Argon, on the other hand, is a gas. Whenever rock is melted to become magma or lava, the argon tends to escape.

Once the molten material hardens, it begins to trap the new argon produced since the hardening took place. In this way the potassium-argon clock is clearly reset when an igneous rock is formed. In its simplest form, the geologist simply needs to measure the relative amounts of potassium and argon to date the rock. The age is given by a relatively simple equation:.

However, in reality there is often a small amount of argon remaining in a rock when it hardens. This is usually trapped in the form of very tiny air bubbles in the rock. One percent of the air we breathe is argon. Any extra argon from air bubbles may need to be taken into account if it is significant relative to the amount of radiogenic argon that is, argon produced by radioactive decays.

This would most likely be the case in either young rocks that have not had time to produce much radiogenic argon, or in rocks that are low in the parent potassium. One must have a way to determine how much air-argon is in the rock.

This is rather easily done because air-argon has a couple of other isotopes, the most abundant of which is argon The ratio of argon to argon in air is well known, at Thus, if one measures argon as well as argon, one can calculate and subtract off the air-argon to get an accurate age.

One of the best ways of showing that an age-date is correct is to confirm it with one or more different dating. Although potassium-argon is one of the simplest dating methods, there are still some cases where it does not agree with other methods.

When this does happen, it is usually because the gas within bubbles in the rock is from deep underground rather than from the air. This gas can have a higher concentration of argon escaping from the melting of older rocks. This is called parentless argon because its parent potassium is not in the rock being dated, and is also not from the air. In these slightly unusual cases, the date given by the normal potassium-argon method is too old. However, scientists in the mids came up with a way around this problem, the argon-argon method, discussed in the next section.

Even though it has been around for nearly half a century, the argon-argon method is seldom discussed by groups critical of dating methods. This method uses exactly the same parent and daughter isotopes as the potassium-argon method. In effect, it is a different way of telling time from the same clock. Instead of simply comparing the total potassium with the non-air argon in the rock, this method has a way of telling exactly what and how much argon is directly related to the potassium in the rock.

In the argon-argon method the rock is placed near the center of a nuclear reactor for a period of hours. A nuclear reactor emits a very large number of neutrons, which are capable of changing a small amount of the potassium into argon Argon is not found in nature because it has only a year half-life.

This half-life doesn't affect the argon-argon dating method as long as the measurements are made within about five years of the neutron dose. The rock is then heated in a furnace to release both the argon and the argon representing the potassium for analysis.

The heating is done at incrementally higher temperatures and at each step the ratio of argon to argon is measured. If the argon is from decay of potassium within the rock, it will come out at the same temperatures as the potassium-derived argon and in a constant proportion. On the other hand, if there is some excess argon in the rock it will cause a different ratio of argon to argon for some or many of the heating steps, so the different heating steps will not agree with each other.

Figure 2 is an example of a good argon-argon date. The fact that this plot is flat shows that essentially all of the argon is from decay of potassium within the rock.

The potassium content of the sample is found by multiplying the argon by a factor based on the neutron exposure in the reactor. When this is done, the plateau in the figure represents an age date based on the decay of potassium to argon There are occasions when the argon-argon dating method does not give an age even if there is sufficient potassium in the sample and the rock was old enough to date.

This most often occurs if the rock experienced a high temperature usually a thousand degrees Fahrenheit or more at some point since its formation. If that occurs, some of the argon gas moves around, and the analysis does not give a smooth plateau across the extraction temperature steps. An example of an argon-argon analysis that did not yield an age date is shown in Figure 3.

Notice that there is no good plateau in this plot. In some instances there will actually be two plateaus, one representing the formation age, and another representing the time at which the heating episode occurred. But in most cases where the system has been disturbed, there simply is no date given. The important point to note is that, rather than giving wrong age dates, this method simply does not give a date if the system has been disturbed.

This is also true of a number of other igneous rock dating methods, as we will describe below. In nearly all of the dating methods, except potassium-argon and the associated argon-argon method, there is always some amount of the daughter product already in the rock when it cools.

Using these methods is a little like trying to tell time from an hourglass that was turned over before all of the sand had fallen to the bottom. One can think of ways to correct for this in an hourglass: One could make a mark on the outside of the glass where the sand level started from and then repeat the interval with a stopwatch in the other hand to calibrate it. Or if one is clever she or he could examine the hourglass' shape and determine what fraction of all the sand was at the top to start with.

By knowing how long it takes all of the sand to fall, one could determine how long the time interval was. Similarly, there are good ways to tell quite precisely how much of the daughter product was already in the rock when it cooled and hardened.

Figure 4 is an important type of plot used in rubidium-strontium dating. This works because if there were no rubidium in the sample, the strontium composition would not change. The slope of the line is used to determine the age of the sample. As the rock starts to age, rubidium gets converted to strontium. The amount of strontium added to each mineral is proportional to the amount of rubidium present.

The solid line drawn through the samples will thus progressively rotate from the horizontal to steeper and steeper slopes. From that we can determine the original daughter strontium in each mineral, which is just what we need to know to determine the correct age. It also turns out that the slope of the line is proportional to the age of the rock. The older the rock, the steeper the line will be. If the slope of the line is m and the half-life is h , the age t in years is given by the equation.

For a system with a very long half-life like rubidium-strontium, the actual numerical value of the slope will always be quite small. To give an example for the above equation, if the slope of a line in a plot similar to Fig. Several things can on rare occasions cause problems for the rubidium-strontium dating method. One possible source of problems is if a rock contains some minerals that are older than the main part of the rock.

This can happen when magma inside the Earth picks up unmelted minerals from the surrounding rock as the magma moves through a magma chamber. Usually a good geologist can distinguish these "xenoliths" from the younger minerals around them. If he or she does happen to use them for dating the rock, the points represented by these minerals will lie off the line made by the rest of the points.

Another difficulty can arise if a rock has undergone metamorphism, that is, if the rock got very hot, but not hot enough to completely re-melt the rock. In these cases, the dates look confused, and do not lie along a line. Some of the minerals may have completely melted, while others did not melt at all, so some minerals try to give the igneous age while other minerals try to give the metamorphic age.

In these cases there will not be a straight line, and no date is determined. In a few very rare instances the rubidium-strontium method has given straight lines that give wrong ages. This can happen when the rock being dated was formed from magma that was not well mixed, and which had two distinct batches of rubidium and strontium. One magma batch had rubidium and strontium compositions near the upper end of a line such as in Fig.

In this case, the. This is called a two-component mixing line. It is a very rare occurrence in these dating mechanisms, but at least thirty cases have been documented among the tens of thousands of rubidium-strontium dates made. The agreement of several dating methods is the best fail-safe way of dating rocks. All of these methods work very similarly to the rubidium-strontium method.

They all use three-isotope diagrams similar to Figure 4 to determine the age. The samarium-neodymium method is the most-often used of these three. It uses the decay of samarium to neodymium, which has a half-life of billion years. The ratio of the daughter isotope, neodymium, to another neodymium isotope, neodymium, is plotted against the ratio of the parent, samarium, to neodymium If different minerals from the same rock plot along a line, the slope is determined, and the age is given by the same equation as above.

The samarium-neodymium method may be preferred for rocks that have very little potassium and rubidium, for which the potassium-argon, argon-argon, and rubidium-strontium methods might be difficult.

The samarium-neodymium method has also been shown to be more resistant to being disturbed or re-set by metamorphic heating events, so for some metamorphosed rocks the samarium-neodymium method is preferred.

For a rock of the same age, the slope on the neodymium-samarium plots will be less than on a rubidium-strontium plot because the half-life is longer. However, these isotope ratios are usually measured to extreme accuracy--several parts in ten thousand--so accurate dates can be obtained even for ages less than one fiftieth of a half-life, and with correspondingly small slopes.

The lutetium-hafnium method uses the 38 billion year half-life of lutetium decaying to hafnium This dating system is similar in many ways to samarium-neodymium, as the elements tend to be concentrated in the same types of minerals. Since samarium-neodymium dating is somewhat easier, the lutetium-hafnium method is used less often. The rhenium-osmium method takes advantage of the fact that the osmium concentration in most rocks and minerals is very low, so a small amount of the parent rhenium can produce a significant change in the osmium isotope ratio.

The half-life for this radioactive decay is 42 billion years. The non-radiogenic stable isotopes, osmium or , are used as the denominator in the ratios on the three-isotope plots.

This method has been useful for dating iron meteorites, and is now enjoying greater use for dating Earth rocks due to development of easier rhenium and osmium isotope measurement techniques. Uranium-Lead and related techniques. The uranium-lead method is the longest-used dating method. It was first used in , about a century ago. The uranium-lead system is more complicated than other parent-daughter systems; it is actually several dating methods put together.

Natural uranium consists primarily of two isotopes, U and U, and these isotopes decay with different half-lives to produce lead and lead, respectively. In addition, lead is produced by thorium Only one isotope of lead, lead, is not radiogenic. The uranium-lead system has an interesting complication: Each decays through a series of relatively short-lived radioactive elements that each decay to a lighter element, finally ending up at lead.

Since these half-lives are so short compared to U, U, and thorium, they generally do not affect the overall dating scheme. The result is that one can obtain three independent estimates of the age of a rock by measuring the lead isotopes and their parent isotopes. Long-term dating based on the U, U, and thorium will be discussed briefly here; dating based on some of the shorter-lived intermediate isotopes is discussed later.

The uranium-lead system in its simpler forms, using U, U, and thorium, has proved to be less reliable than many of the other dating systems. This is because both uranium and lead are less easily retained in many of the minerals in which they are found. Yet the fact that there are three dating systems all in one allows scientists to easily determine whether the system has been disturbed or not.

Using slightly more complicated mathematics, different combinations of the lead isotopes and parent isotopes can be plotted in such a way as to. One of these techniques is called the lead-lead technique because it determines the ages from the lead isotopes alone. Some of these techniques allow scientists to chart at what points in time metamorphic heating events have occurred, which is also of significant interest to geologists.

The Age of the Earth. We now turn our attention to what the dating systems tell us about the age of the Earth. 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.

Imsges: how is carbon dating used to determine age of fossils

how is carbon dating used to determine age of fossils

The most obvious constraint is the age of the oldest rocks. As little as years ago mainstream English speaking scientist did not believe that stones fell from the sky contrary to all the anecdotal evidence over the past centuries. Samples for dating need to be converted into a form suitable for measuring the 14 C content; this can mean conversion to gaseous, liquid, or solid form, depending on the measurement technique to be used.

how is carbon dating used to determine age of fossils

In spite of this, differences still occur within the church. Volcanic eruptions eject large amounts of carbon into the air.

how is carbon dating used to determine age of fossils

Similarly, when all the atoms of the radioactive element how is carbon dating used to determine age of fossils gone, the rock will no longer keep time unless it receives a new batch of radioactive atoms. Besides the cosmogenic radionuclides discussed above, there is one other class of short-lived radionuclides on Earth. Wiens received a bachelor's degree in Physics from Wheaton College and a PhD from the University of Minnesota, doing research on meteorites and moon rocks. It is unique places to hook up a chart of the nuclides. C Dating--The radiocarbon laboratories at Oxford England and Waikato New Zealand Universities jointly operate this website which gives very comprehensive information on radiocarbon dating.