3 types of relative dating
From the beginning of this course, we have stated that the Earth is about 4.6 billion years old.
How do we know this and how do we know the ages of other events in Earth history?
That’s because zircon is super tough – it resists weathering. Each radioactive isotope works best for particular applications.
The half-life of carbon 14, for example, is 5,730 years.
For example, which is older, the bricks in a building or the building itself?
Are there repairs or cracks in the sidewalk that came after the sidewalk was built?
The narrower a range of time that an animal lived, the better it is as an index of a specific time.
This method works because some unstable (radioactive) isotopes of some elements decay at a known rate into daughter products. Half-life simply means the amount of time it takes for half of a remaining particular isotope to decay to a daughter product. Good discussion from the US Geological Survey: geochronolgists just measure the ratio of the remaining parent atom to the amount of daughter and voila, they know how long the molecule has been hanging out decaying. So to date those, geologists look for layers like volcanic ash that might be sandwiched between the sedimentary layers, and that tend to have radioactive elements.
What’s more, if the whole rock is badly weathered, it will be hard to find an intact mineral grain containing radioactive isotopes.
You might have noticed that many of the oldest age dates come from a mineral called zircon.
Chart of a few different isotope half lifes: In reality, geologists tend to mix and match relative and absolute age dates to piece together a geologic history.
If a rock has been partially melted, or otherwise metamorphosed, that causes complications for radiometric (absolute) age dating as well.