Relative Vs. Absolute Dating: The Ultimate Face-off
Relative dating is used to arrange geological events, and the rocks they Next time you find a cliff or road cutting with lots of rock strata, Suppose you find a fossil at one place that cannot be dated using absolute methods. Relative age dating has given us the names we use for the major and minor The Geologic Time Scale is up there with the Periodic Table of. Relative dating is used to determine the relative ages of geologic strata, artifacts, With this background, it is strange that the “standard geologic column” that This was done years before absolute dating methods were available. The ten.
Relative dating - Wikipedia
Due to that discovery, Smith was able to recognize the order that the rocks were formed. Sixteen years after his discovery, he published a geological map of England showing the rocks of different geologic time eras. Principles of relative dating[ edit ] Methods for relative dating were developed when geology first emerged as a natural science in the 18th century. Geologists still use the following principles today as a means to provide information about geologic history and the timing of geologic events.
Relative Vs. Absolute Dating: The Ultimate Face-off
Uniformitarianism[ edit ] The principle of Uniformitarianism states that the geologic processes observed in operation that modify the Earth's crust at present have worked in much the same way over geologic time. In geology, when an igneous intrusion cuts across a formation of sedimentary rockit can be determined that the igneous intrusion is younger than the sedimentary rock.
There are a number of different types of intrusions, including stocks, laccolithsbatholithssills and dikes. Cross-cutting relationships[ edit ] Cross-cutting relations can be used to determine the relative ages of rock strata and other geological structures.
The principle of cross-cutting relationships pertains to the formation of faults and the age of the sequences through which they cut.
Faults are younger than the rocks they cut; accordingly, if a fault is found that penetrates some formations but not those on top of it, then the formations that were cut are older than the fault, and the ones that are not cut must be younger than the fault. Finding the key bed in these situations may help determine whether the fault is a normal fault or a thrust fault.
For example, in sedimentary rocks, it is common for gravel from an older formation to be ripped up and included in a newer layer. A similar situation with igneous rocks occurs when xenoliths are found. These foreign bodies are picked up as magma or lava flows, and are incorporated, later to cool in the matrix.
As a result, xenoliths are older than the rock which contains them. Original horizontality[ edit ] The principle of original horizontality states that the deposition of sediments occurs as essentially horizontal beds.
Observation of modern marine and non-marine sediments in a wide variety of environments supports this generalization although cross-bedding is inclined, the overall orientation of cross-bedded units is horizontal. This is because it is not possible for a younger layer to slip beneath a layer previously deposited. This principle allows sedimentary layers to be viewed as a form of vertical time line, a partial or complete record of the time elapsed from deposition of the lowest layer to deposition of the highest bed.
As organisms exist at the same time period throughout the world, their presence or sometimes absence may be used to provide a relative age of the formations in which they are found.
Radiocarbon Dating 14C Formation Radiocarbon dating is a widely used method of obtaining absolute dates on organic material. Carbon 14C is a type of carbon that undergoes radioactive decay at a known rate.
Read more about its formation here. Organic materials that can be dated Many different organic carbon containing materials may be dated using the radiocarbon method. Wood, seeds, hair, bone, insect remains, peat, and charcoal are just a few of the materials that are radiocarbon dated.
How is 14C used for dating? All plants and animals incorporate carbon into their tissues during their lives for growth and energy. When an organism dies, it stops incorporating carbon all forms of carbon, including 14C into its structure. The amount of radioactive carbon 14C that had been in the organism when it was alive begins to decrease at death as it loses nuclear particles through radioactive decay. In effect, the "clock" starts ticking when death occurs.
Carbon 14 decays at a constant rate. Here's the next step in that journey: In the science of geology, there are two main ways we use to describe how old a thing is or how long ago an event took place. There are absolute ages and there are relative ages.
People love absolute ages. An absolute age is a number. When you say that I am 38 years old or that the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago, or that the solar system formed 4. We use a variety of laboratory techniques to figure out absolute ages of rocks, often having to do with the known rates of decay of radioactive elements into detectable daughter products.
Unfortunately, those methods don't work on all rocks, and they don't work at all if you don't have rocks in the laboratory to age-date. There's no absolute age-dating method that works from orbit, and although scientists are working on age-dating instruments small enough to fly on a lander I'm looking at you, Barbara Cohennothing has launched yet.
So that leaves us with relative ages. Relative ages are not numbers. They are descriptions of how one rock or event is older or younger than another. Relative age dating has given us the names we use for the major and minor geologic time periods we use to split up the history of Earth and all the other planets.
Relative-age time periods are what make up the Geologic Time Scale. The Geologic Time Scale is up there with the Periodic Table of Elements as one of those iconic, almost talismanic scientific charts.
Long before I understood what any of it meant, I'd daydream in science class, staring at this chart, sounding out the names, wondering what those black-and-white bars meant, wondering what the colors meant, wondering why the divisions were so uneven, knowing it represented some kind of deep, meaningful, systematic organization of scientific knowledge, and hoping I'd have it all figured out one day.
This all has to do with describing how long ago something happened. But how do we figure out when something happened? There are several ways we figure out relative ages. The simplest is the law of superposition: We have no idea how much older thing B is, we just know that it's older. That's why geologic time is usually diagramed in tall columnar diagrams like this. Just like a stack of sedimentary rocks, time is recorded in horizontal layers, with the oldest layer on the bottom, superposed by ever-younger layers, until you get to the most recent stuff on the tippy top.
On Earth, we have a very powerful method of relative age dating: Paleontologists have examined layered sequences of fossil-bearing rocks all over the world, and noted where in those sequences certain fossils appear and disappear.
When you find the same fossils in rocks far away, you know that the sediments those rocks must have been laid down at the same time. The more fossils you find at a location, the more you can fine-tune the relative age of this layer versus that layer.
Of course, this only works for rocks that contain abundant fossils. Conveniently, the vast majority of rocks exposed on the surface of Earth are less than a few hundred million years old, which corresponds to the time when there was abundant multicellular life here. Look closely at the Geologic Time Scale chartand you might notice that the first three columns don't even go back million years.
That last, pink Precambrian column, with its sparse list of epochal names, covers the first four billion years of Earth's history, more than three quarters of Earth's existence. Most Earth geologists don't talk about that much. Paleontologists have used major appearances and disappearances of different kinds of fossils on Earth to divide Earth's history -- at least the part of it for which there are lots of fossils -- into lots of eras and periods and epochs.
When you talk about something happening in the Precambrian or the Cenozoic or the Silurian or Eocene, you are talking about something that happened when a certain kind of fossil life was present. Major boundaries in Earth's time scale happen when there were major extinction events that wiped certain kinds of fossils out of the fossil record. This is called the chronostratigraphic time scale -- that is, the division of time the "chrono-" part according to the relative position in the rock record that's "stratigraphy".
The science of paleontology, and its use for relative age dating, was well-established before the science of isotopic age-dating was developed. Nowadays, age-dating of rocks has established pretty precise numbers for the absolute ages of the boundaries between fossil assemblages, but there's still uncertainty in those numbers, even for Earth.
In fact, I have sitting in front of me on my desk a two-volume work on The Geologic Time Scalefully pages devoted to an eight-year effort to fine-tune the correlation between the relative time scale and the absolute time scale.
Relative and absolute ages in the histories of Earth and the Moon: The Geologic Time Scale
The Geologic Time Scale is not light reading, but I think that every Earth or space scientist should have a copy in his or her library -- and make that the latest edition.
In the time since the previous geologic time scale was published inmost of the boundaries between Earth's various geologic ages have shifted by a million years or so, and one of them the Carnian-Norian boundary within the late Triassic epoch has shifted by 12 million years.
With this kind of uncertainty, Felix Gradstein, editor of the Geologic Time Scale, suggests that we should stick with relative age terms when describing when things happened in Earth's history emphasis mine: For clarity and precision in international communication, the rock record of Earth's history is subdivided into a "chronostratigraphic" scale of standardized global stratigraphic units, such as "Devonian", "Miocene", "Zigzagiceras zigzag ammonite zone", or "polarity Chron C25r".
Unlike the continuous ticking clock of the "chronometric" scale measured in years before the year ADthe chronostratigraphic scale is based on relative time units in which global reference points at boundary stratotypes define the limits of the main formalized units, such as "Permian". The chronostratigraphic scale is an agreed convention, whereas its calibration to linear time is a matter for discovery or estimation.
We can all agree to the extent that scientists agree on anything to the fossil-derived scale, but its correspondence to numbers is a "calibration" process, and we must either make new discoveries to improve that calibration, or estimate as best we can based on the data we have already.