Slowly and painstakingly, geologists have assembled this record into the generalized geologic time scale shown in Figure 1. This was done by observing the relative age sequence of rock units in a given area and determining, from stratigraphic relations, which rock units are younger, which are older, and what assemblages of fossils are contained in each unit. Using fossils to correlate from area to area, geologists have been able to work out a relative worldwide order of rock formations and to divide the rock record and geologic time into the eras, periods, and epochs shown in Figure 1. The last modification to the geologic time scale of Figure 1 was in the s, before radiometric dating was fully developed, when the Oligocene Epoch was inserted between the Eocene and the Miocene. Although early stratigraphers could determine the relative order of rock units and fossils, they could only estimate the lengths of time involved by observing the rates of present geologic processes and comparing the rocks produced by those processes with those preserved in the stratigraphic record.
AGE OF THE EARTH
Radiometric dating methods | Geology (modification for Lehman College, CUNY)
Radiometric dating, often called radioactive dating, is a technique used to determine the age of materials such as rocks. It is based on a comparison between the observed abundance of a naturally occurring radioactive isotope and its decay products, using known decay rates. It is the principal source of information about the absolute age of rocks and other geological features, including the age of the Earth itself, and it can be used to date a wide range of natural and man-made materials. The best-known radiometric dating techniques include radiocarbon dating, potassium-argon dating, and uranium-lead dating.
Radiometric Age Dating
Radiometric dating calculates an age in years for geologic materials by measuring the presence of a short-life radioactive element, e. The term applies to all methods of age determination based on nuclear decay of naturally occurring radioactive isotopes. Bates and Jackson To determine the ages in years of Earth materials and the timing of geologic events such as exhumation and subduction, geologists utilize the process of radiometric decay. Geologists use these dates to further define the boundaries of the geologic periods shown on the geologic time scale. Radiometric decay occurs when the nucleus of a radioactive atom spontaneously transforms into an atomic nucleus of a different, more stable isotope.
The age of Earth is estimated to be 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.