Isotope dating techniques

Variations in isotopic abundance are measured by isotope ratio mass spectrometry, and can reveal information about the ages and origins of rock, air or water bodies, or processes of mixing between them.

Stable isotope geochemistry is largely concerned with isotopic variations arising from mass-dependent isotope fractionation, whereas radiogenic isotope geochemistry is concerned with the products of natural radioactivity.

Radiogenic isotope tracers are most powerful when used together with other tracers: The more tracers used, the more control on mixing processes.

An example of this application is to the evolution of the Earth's crust and Earth's mantle through geological time.

For most stable isotopes, the magnitude of fractionation from kinetic and equilibrium fractionation is very small; for this reason, enrichments are typically reported in "per mil" (‰, parts per thousand).

C ratio is also an indicator of paleoclimate: a change in the ratio in the remains of plants indicates a change in the amount of photosynthetic activity, and thus in how favorable the environment was for the plants.

The difference in the ratio of the sample relative to CHUR can give information on a model age of extraction from the mantle (for which an assumed evolution has been calculated relative to CHUR) and to whether this was extracted from a granitic source (depleted in radiogenic Nd), the mantle, or an enriched source.

When living things die, they stop taking in carbon-14, and the radioactive clock is "set"!

Any dead material incorporated with sedimentary deposits is a possible candidate for carbon-14 dating.

A commonly used radiometric dating technique relies on the breakdown of potassium (Ar in an igneous rock can tell us the amount of time that has passed since the rock crystallized.

If an igneous or other rock is metamorphosed, its radiometric clock is reset, and potassium-argon measurements can be used to tell the number of years that has passed since metamorphism.

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