Recall Archbishop James Usher (1581-1665) who made a first attempt to calculate the age of the earth using the Bible.
Date: October 4004 B.C.
Very young earth! WRONG!
ITS AS OLD AS DIRT!
James Hutton and Charles Lyell (1797-1875)
Estimated soil formation at thousands of years/cm.
Physical and chemical laws are uniform and have been operating on earth, causing changes for a LONG time.
The present is the key to the past!
Charles Lyell published Principles of Geology 1830.
Small changes in present day processes could, over long periods of time, produce significant changes.
Two methods to assess geologic time: RELATIVE dating and ABSOLUTE dating.
What’s the difference?
GEOLOGIC TIME Geologic time involves events ranging in time from a few seconds (earthquakes, meteorite impacts) to millions and even billions of years (the movement of tectonic plates, the formation of the earth itself). Geologists use two different methods to determine geologic time and the ages of geologic features and events: 1. Relative age dating involves establishing the order of features and events, without necessarily determining their actual age in years. 2. Absolute age dating involves determining the actual age (in thousands, millions, or billions of years) of a rock or other geologic feature.
Age refers to the sequence in which events took place, not an actual age (in years).
Method used before radioactivity was discovered.
Using original horizontality, superposition, cross-cutting relationships and fossil assemblages one can determine which rock is older than the other.
Relative Dating Techniques
Nicolaus Steno (1638-1686)
Principle of Superposition
Principle of Original Horizontality
Principle of Lateral Continuity
These principles led to the study of stratigraphy (study of layered rocks).
Steno’s Law of Superposition
sequence of undisturbed strata (layers of rock), the oldest is at the bottom and successively higher layers are successively younger.
Steno’s Principle of Original Horizontality
Sediments that compose rock are under the influence of gravity. Therefore sediments are deposited horizontally and parallel to the surface they are accumulating onto.
Steno’s Principle of Original Horizontality
If the sedimentary rock layers are tilted on an angle, what does this mean?
Steno’s Principle of Lateral Continuity
Sediments are deposited layers on top of each other. If you find the layers of rock are the same type of rock and sequence of layers here and over there, we can assume they were once continuous.
A fault can disrupt once continuous layers of rock.
Streams can erode a valley making rock layers discontinuous.
In addition to Steno’s Principles, Lyell came up with another couple of rules to stratigraphy.
Principle of Cross Cutting Relationships
Principle of Inclusions
Principle of Cross-Cutting Relationships
Can determine the relative ages of rocks compared to one another.
Applies to rocks, faults, unconformities, intrusions, etc.
For example, If one rock layer cuts across another rock layer then the rock layer doing the ‘cutting into’ is younger.
Principle of Inclusions
Fragments of one rock type can be ‘included’ into a totally different rock type (when the two rocks are in contact with one another).
Whenever two rock types are in contact, the rocks containing the pieces of the other will be younger of the two.
In order to be ‘included’ into another rock you must exist first.
Relative Age Dating - an example
Layer #1 is younger than the other layers because it is on top. Layer #5 is older than Layers#1-#4, because it is below them.
The fault is younger than all the layers, because it cuts through all the layers.
The blue layer is the same age in both places, because it contains the same fossils.
Breaks in the Stratigraphic Record
Layers of rock are said to be conformable when they are found to have been deposited layer after layer without interruption. Although particular sites may exhibit conformable beds representing significant spans of geologic time, there is no place on earth that contains a full set of conformable strata.
Throughout earth history, the deposition of sediment has been interrupted over and over again. All such breaks in the rock record are termed unconformities . An unconformity represents a long period of time during which deposition ceased and/or erosion removed previously formed rocks.
There are three kinds of unconformities…..
A Disconformity is an irregular surface of erosion between parallel strata. A disconformity implies a cessation of sedimentation, as well as erosion, but no tilting.
Many disconformities are difficult to identify because the rocks above and below are similar and there is little evidence of erosion.
Angular unconformities consist of tilted or folded sedimentary rocks that are overlain by younger, more flat lying strata.
Angular unconformities indicate that during the pause in deposition, a period of deformation (folding or tilting) as well as erosion occurred.
Nonconformities are a type of unconformity in which the break separates older metamorphic or intrusive igneous rocks from younger sedimentary strata.
Intrusive igneous masses and metamorphic rocks originate far below the surface. Therefore, for a nonconformity to develop, there must be a period of uplift and the erosion of overlying rocks. Once exposed at the surface, the igneous or metamorphic rocks are subjected to weathering/erosion prior to sedimentation.
The Fossil Record What about life represented in the rock record? William Smith’s Principle of Faunal Succession Examined fossils in rocks. Found that you could match them up all over the world based on the assemblages (group of fossils) in rocks. Rocks around the world can be correlated based on their fossil content (formed at the same TIME under the same CONDITIONS just in different locations). Principle of Faunal Succession suggests that throughout geologic time, there has been a regular succession of organisms. Fossils succeed one another in a definite and recognizable order, and therefore any time period can be recognized by its fossil content.
Principle of Faunal Succession
When fossils are arranged according to their age by using the law of superposition on the rocks in which they are found, they do not present a random or haphazard picture. To the contrary, fossils show progressive changes from simple to complex and reveal the advancement of life through time.
For example, in the fossil record there is represented, in succession, an age of trilobites. an age of fishes, an age of reptiles, and an age of mammals. These ages pertain to groups that were especially plentiful and characteristic during particular time periods. Within each of the ages, there are many subdivisions based on certain species. This same succession of dominant organisms, never out of order, is found on every major landmass.
Fossils and Stratigraphy
Because of faunal succession, each fossil species can be given a geologic range the first appearance of the fossil in the rock record to the last appearance of the fossil in the rock record. It is the range that an organism existed and left behind fossil evidence.
Geologic ranges vary among groups of organisms.
Correlation and Faunal Succession Correlation by fossils. Certain index fossils are keys to matching and dating sedimentary strata in widely separated outcrops
Fossils that are good for correlating and dating rocks all over the world.
Easy to identify.
Short life span for the species (small geologic range).
Principle of Faunal Succession
Fossil assemblages are generally more useful for dating rocks than a single fossil because the sediment must have been deposited at a time when all the species represented existed.
As you can see in this image the fossil remains of living things are present in the rock layers at definite intervals, and exist within a discrete period of time. In this instance, using the Law of Superposition, would the age Rock Unit A be older or younger than the age of Rock Unit B?
The geologic time scale was based on relative dating. Absolute ages have now been assigned by way of radiometric dating.
Radiometric dating is a reliable means of calculating the ages of rocks and minerals that contain radioactive elements. How?
Absolute Age Dating Determining the actual age of a rock, in years, requires some sort of natural “clock”. The clock that geologists use is the radioactive decay of certain elements within rocks. Radioactive decay is when an unstable element changes (decays) into another element, or a new variation of itself . This change occurs at a precise rate that can be determined by experimentation.
Absolute dating involves atoms.
An atom is made of electrons, protons and neutrons.
The atomic number is the number of protons.
The atomic mass is the number of protons and the number of neutrons in the nucleus.
Atoms can be considered STABLE, where they will not want to bond with another atom (if the outermost shell is full of electrons).
Radioactive elements are not ‘stable’ like atoms they vary in the number of neutrons in the nucleus forming different isotopes.
Atoms of different isotopes are the same element but they have different atomic weights (due to varying number of neutrons).
Absolute Dating In order to become stable radioactive elements must lose particles (radioactive decay). By convention, the unstable element is called the “ parent ”, while the element resulting from the decay of the parent is called the “ daughter ”. The speed (rate) at which a particular parent element changes into a daughter element is expressed as the half-life : the time required for half of the parent atoms to change into daughter atoms.
Alpha decay is when an unstable parent atom emits an alpha particle (a small atom consisting of 2 protons and 2 neutrons). Beta decay is when an unstable parent emits a beta particle (an electron). Both types of decay produce a new, stable daughter atom. Two types of radioactive decay are common.
Bottom Line: To determine the age when a rock formed, you need to know two things:
- the percentage of parent and daughter atoms in the rock
- the half-life (rate of decay)
An example follows on the next 2 slides…..
Notice in this figure how the percentage of parent atoms decreases, and the percentage of daughter atoms increases, as time goes by. By measuring the rate at which this occurs (the half-life), and measuring the percentage of parent and daughter atoms in the rock, we can determine the age of the rock!
The half-life is the time it takes for half of the parent to decay into daughter.
We start with 100% parent.
If one half life passes, 50% parent and 50% daughter isotope. How much time passed to accomplish this.
If another half life were to pass, OF THE 50% percent parent, half of THAT will decay. After two half lives, we should record 75% daughter and 25% parent.
Different radioactive elements decay at different rates. You will choose your radioactive element wisely depending on what you are dating.
C-14 = 5730 yrs; U-238 = 4.5byrs.
A form of radioactive decay that is particularly useful for determining the ages of the remains of plants and animals is the decay of carbon-14 to carbon-12. C-14 is made continuously in the upper atmosphere, so all living things absorb a fraction of C-14 in their tissues as they grow. After death, C-14 decays gradually to N-14. By measuring the percentage of C-14 versus N-14 in plant and animal remains, we can determine their age. Carbon-14 radiometric dating can be used to determine ages of organic remains up about 50,000 years old.
FORMATION and AGE of the EARTH Our solar system consists of 8 planets (not including Pluto) orbiting the Sun in a single plane, all traveling in the same direction. Most scientists think this reflects the formation of the solar system from a nebula - a spinning cloud of gas and dust that slowly contracted under its own gravity, flattened into a disc, and eventually coalesced into the Sun and the planets, including Earth.
When did the Earth and the rest of the solar system form? Radiometric dating (based on the decay of uranium into lead) shows us that the oldest rocks yet found on earth are nearly 4.0 billion years old . Furthermore, certain isolated mineral grains (eroded out of rocks that are no longer present) have been dated as old as 4.3 billion years . However, scientists presently accept 4.6 billion years as the age of formation of the earth. This is the age (based again on the decay of uranium into lead) of the oldest moon rocks and meteorites . Since we assume that all objects in the solar system formed at about the same time (see previous slide), we assume that the earth is about as old as the moon and meteorites. Our earth today is a result of geologic processes that have acted over an immense span of geologic time!