Potassium argon dating reliability - InternshipsAnywhere
May 15, Chronological Methods 9 - Potassium-Argon Dating By comparing the proportion of K to Ar in a sample of volcanic rock, and Potassium-argon dating is accurate from billion years (the age of the Earth) to about. (5) "One of the main uses of potassium-argon in recent years has been in the ages of minerals from rather old rocks dated by the potassium-argon method are . define a valid age information for a geological system, even if a goodness of fit . The accuracy of the K-Ar dating is dependent upon the following: . result of the in situ decay of 40 K, an assumption which is not always valid.
Here is one example of an isochron, based on measurements of basaltic meteorites in this case the resulting date is 4. Reliability of radiometric dating So, are radiometric methods foolproof? Just how reliable are these dates? As with any experimental procedure in any field of science, these measurements are subject to certain "glitches" and "anomalies," as noted in the literature. Skeptics of old-earth geology make great hay of these examples. For example, creationist writer Henry Morris [ Morrispg.
In the particular case that Morris highlighted, the lava flow was unusual because it included numerous xenoliths typically consisting of olivine, an iron-magnesium silicate material that are foreign to the lava, having been carried from deep within the earth but not completely melted in the lava. Also, as the authors of the article were careful to explain, xenoliths cannot be dated by the K-Ar method because of excess argon in bubbles trapped inside [ Dalrymple ]. Thus in this case, as in many others that have been raised by skeptics of old-earth geology, the "anomaly" is more imaginary than real.
Other objections raised by creationists are addressed in [ Dalrymplea ]. The overall reliability of radiometric dating was addressed in some detail in a recent book by Brent Dalrymple, a premier expert in the field. He wrote [ Dalrymplepg.
These methods provide valid age data in most instances, although there is a small percentage of instances in which even these generally reliable methods yield incorrect results.
Such failures may be due to laboratory errors mistakes happenunrecognized geologic factors nature sometimes fools usor misapplication of the techniques no one is perfect. We scientists who measure isotope ages do not rely entirely on the error estimates and the self-checking features of age diagnostic diagrams to evaluate the accuracy of radiometric ages.
Whenever possible we design an age study to take advantage of other ways of checking the reliability of the age measurements. The simplest means is to repeat the analytical measurements in order to check for laboratory errors. Another method is to make age measurements on several samples from the same rock unit. This technique helps identify post-formation geologic disturbances because different minerals respond differently to heating and chemical changes.
The isochron techniques are partly based on this principle. The use of different dating methods on the same rock is an excellent way to check the accuracy of age results.
If two or more radiometric clocks based on different elements and running at different rates give the same age, that's powerful evidence that the ages are probably correct. Along this line, Roger Wiens, a scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, asks those who are skeptical of radiometric dating to consider the following quoted in several cases from [ Wiens ]: There are well over forty different radiometric dating methods, and scores of other methods such as tree rings and ice cores.
All of the different dating methods agree--they agree a great majority of the time over millions of years of time. Some [skeptics] make it sound like there is a lot of disagreement, but this is not the case. The disagreement in values needed to support the position of young-Earth proponents would require differences in age measured by orders of magnitude e. The differences actually found in the scientific literature are usually close to the margin of error, usually a few percent, not orders of magnitude!
Vast amounts of data overwhelmingly favor an old Earth. Several hundred laboratories around the world are active in radiometric dating. Their results consistently agree with an old Earth. Over a thousand papers on radiometric dating were published in scientifically recognized journals in the last year, and hundreds of thousands of dates have been published in the last 50 years. Essentially all of these strongly favor an old Earth. Radioactive decay rates have been measured for over sixty years now for many of the decay clocks without any observed changes.
And it has been close to a hundred years since the uranium decay rate was first determined. A recent survey of the rubidium-strontium method found only about 30 cases, out of tens of thousands of published results, where a date determined using the proper procedures was subsequently found to be in error. Both long-range and short-range dating methods have been successfully verified by dating lavas of historically known ages over a range of several thousand years.
The mathematics for determining the ages from the observations is relatively simple. Rates of radioactivity One question that sometimes arises here is how can scientists assume that rates of radioactivity have been constant over the great time spans involved. Creationist Henry Morris, for example, criticizes this type of "uniformitarian" assumption [ Morrispg. But numerous experiments have been conducted to detect any change in radioactivity as a result of chemical activity, exceedingly high heat, pressure, or magnetic field.
None of these experiments has detected any significant deviation for any isotope used in geologic dating [ Dalrymplepg. These reactor produced isotopes of argon must be corrected for in order to determine an accurate age. The monitoring of the interfering reactions is performed through the use of laboratory salts and glasses. For example, to determine the amount of reactor produced 40Ar from 40K, potassium-rich glass is irradiated with the samples.
The desirable production of 38Ar from 37Cl allows us to determine how much chlorine is present in our samples. Multiple argon extractions can be performed on a sample in several ways. Step-heating is the most common way and involves either a furnace or a laser to uniformily heat the sample to evolve argon. The individual ages from each heating step are then graphically plotted on an age spectrum or an isochron. Mechanical crushing is also a technique capable of releasing argon from a single sample in multiple steps.
Laser probes also allow multiple ages to be determined on a single sample aliquot, but do so using accurate and precise spatial control. For example, laser spot sizes of microns or less allow a user to extract multiple argon samples from across a small mica or feldspar grain. The results from a laser probe can be plotted in several graphical ways, including a map of a grain showing lateral argon distribution.
Total fusion is performed using a laser and results are commonly plotted on probability distribution diagrams or ideograms. For the J to be determined, a standard of known age must be irradiated with the samples of unknown age. Traditionally, this primary standard has been a hornblende from the McClure Mountains, Colorado a. Some of these include other isotopic dating techniques e. This uncertainty results from 1 the branched decay scheme of 40K and 2 the long half-life of 40K 1.
Here the actual observed branching ratio is not used, but rather a small ratio is arbitrarily chosen in an effort to match dates obtained method with U-Th-Pb dates. The branching ratio that is often used is 0.
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- K/Ar Dating
Thus we have another source of error for K-Ar dating. Back to top Thus there are a number of sources of error. We now consider whether they can explain the observed dates. In general, the dates that are obtained by radiometric methods are in the hundreds of millions of years range.
One can understand this by the fact that the clock did not get reset if one accepts the fact that the magma "looks" old, for whatever reason. That is, we can get both parent and daughter elements from the magma inherited into minerals that crystallize out of lava, making these minerals look old.
Since the magma has old radiometric dates, depending on how much the clock gets reset, the crust can end up with a variety of younger dates just by partially inheriting the dates of the magma. Thus any method based on simple parent to daughter ratios such as Rb-Sr dating is bound to be unreliable, since there would have to be a lot of the daughter product in the magma already.
And Harold Coffin's book Creation by Design lists a study showing that Rb-Sr dates are often inherited from the magma. Even the initial ratios of parent and daughter elements in the earth do not necessarily indicate an age as old as 4. Radioactive decay would be faster in the bodies of stars, which is where scientists assume the heavy elements formed. Imagine a uranium nucleus forming by the fusion of smaller nucleii.
At the moment of formation, as two nucleii collide, the uranium nucleus will be somewhat unstable, and thus very likely to decay into its daughter element. The same applies to all nucleii, implying that one could get the appearance of age quickly. Of course, the thermonuclear reactions in the star would also speed up radioactive decay.
But isochrons might be able to account for pre-existing daughter elements.
Radiometric Dating Does Work!
Furthermore, some elements in the earth are too abundant to be explained by radioactive decay in 4. Some are too scarce such as helium. So it's not clear to me how one can be sure of the 4. Back to top In general, potassium-argon dates appear to be older the deeper one goes in the crust of the earth. We now consider possible explanations for this. There are at least a couple of mechanisms to account for this.
In volcano eruptions, a considerable amount of gas is released with the lava. This gas undoubtedly contains a significant amount of argon Volcanos typically have magma chambers under them, from which the eruptions occur. It seems reasonable that gas would collect at the top of these chambers, causing artificially high K-Ar radiometric ages there.
In addition, with each successive eruption, some gas would escape, reducing the pressure of the gas and reducing the apparent K-Ar radiometric age. Thus the decreasing K-Ar ages would represent the passage of time, but not necessarily related to their absolute radiometric ages.
As a result, lava found in deeper layers, having erupted earlier, would generally appear much older and lava found in higher layers, having erupted later, would appear much younger. This could account for the observed distribution of potassium-argon dates, even if the great sedimantary layers were laid down very recently.
In addition, lava emerging later will tend to be hotter, coming from deeper in the earth and through channels that have already been warmed up. This lava will take longer to cool down, giving more opportunity for enclosed argon to escape and leading to younger radiometric ages.
A discussion of these mechanisms may be found at the Geoscience Research Institute site. Another factor is that rocks absorb argon from the air. It is true that this can be accounted for by the fact that argon in the air has Ar36 and Ar40, whereas only Ar40 is produced by K-Ar decay. But for rocks deep in the earth, the mixture of argon in their environment is probably much higher in Ar40, since only Ar40 is produced by radioactive decay.
As these rocks absorb argon, their radiometric ages would increase. This would probably have a larger effect lower down, where the pressure of argon would be higher. Or it could be that such a distribution of argon pressures in the rocks occurred at some time in the past. This would also make deeper rocks tend to have older radiometric ages. Recent lava flows often yield K-Ar ages of aboutyears.
This shous that they contain some excess argon, and not all of it is escaping. If they contained a hundred times more excess argon, their K-Ar ages would be a hundred times greater, I suppose. And faster cooling could increase the ages by further large factors. I also read of a case where a rock was K-Ar dated at 50 million years, and still susceptible to absorbing argon from the air.
This shows that one might get radiometric ages of at least 50 million years in this way by absorbing Ar40 deep in the earth without much Ar36 or Ar38 present. If the pressure of Ar40 were greater, one could obtain even greater ages. Yet another mechanism that can lead to decreasing K-Ar ages with time is the following, in a flood model: One can assume that at the beginning of the flood, many volcanoes erupted and the waters became enriched in Ar Then any lava under water would appear older because its enclosed Ar40 would have more trouble escaping.
As time passed, this Ar40 would gradually pass into the atmosphere, reducing this effect and making rocks appear younger. In addition, this would cause a gradient of Ar40 concentrations in the air, with higher concentrations near the ground.
This also could make flows on the land appear older than they are, since their Ar40 would also have a harder time escaping.
Back to top Let us consider the question of how much different dating methods agree on the geologic column, and how many measurements are anomalous, since these points are often mentioned as evidences of the reliability of radiometric dating.
It takes a long time to penetrate the confusion and find out what is the hard evidence in this area. In the first place, I am not primarily concerned with dating meteorites, or precambrian rocks. What I am more interested in is the fossil-bearing geologic column of Cambrian and later age. Now, several factors need to be considered when evaluating how often methods give expected ages on the geologic column. Some of these are taken from John Woodmoreappe's article on the subject, but only when I have reason to believe the statements are also generally believed.
First, many igneous formations span many periods, and so have little constraint on what period they could belong to. The same applies to intrusions. In addition, some kinds of rocks are not considered as suitable for radiometric dating, so these are typically not considered.
Furthermore, it is at least possible that anomalies are under-reported in the literature. Finally, the overwhelming majority of measurements on the fossil bearing geologic column are all done using one method, the K-Ar method.
And let me recall that both potassium and argon are water soluble, and argon is mobile in rock. Thus the agreement found between many dates does not necessarily reflect an agreement between different methods, but rather the agreement of the K-Ar method with itself.
For example, if 80 percent of the measurements were done using K-Ar dating, and the other 20 percent gave random results, we still might be able to say that most of the measurements on a given strata agree with one another reasonably well. So to me it seems quite conceivable that there is no correlation at all between the results of different methods on the geologic column, and that they have a purely random relationship to each other.
Let us consider again the claim that radiometric dates for a given geologic period agree with each other. I would like to know what is the exact or approximate information content of this assertion, and whether it could be or has been tested statistically. It's not as easy as it might sound. Let's suppose that we have geologic periods G Let's only include rocks whose membership in the geologic period can be discerned independent of radiometric dating methods. Let's also only include rocks which are considered datable by at least one method, since some rocks I believe limestone are considered not to hold argon, for example.
Now, we can take a random rock from Gi. We will have to restrict ourselves to places where Gi is exposed, to avoid having to dig deep within the earth.
The Radiometric Dating Game
Let's apply all known dating methods to Gi that are thought to apply to this kind of rock, and obtain ages from each one. Then we can average them to get an average age for this rock. We can also compute how much they differ from one another. Now we have to be careful about lava flows -- which geologic period do they belong to? What about rocks that are thought not to have their clock reset, or to have undergone later heating episodes?
Just to make the test unbiased, we will assign altitude limits to each geologic period at each point on the earth's surface at least in principle and include all rocks within these altitude limits within Gi, subject to the condition that they are datable. The measurements should be done in a double-blind manner to insure lack of unconscious bias. For each geologic period and each dating method, we will get a distribution of values. We will also get a distribution of averaged values for samples in each period.
Now, some claim is being made about these distributions. It is undoubtedly being claimed that the mean values ascend as one goes up the geologic column. It is also being claimed that the standard deviations are not too large. It is also being claimed that the different methods have distributions that are similar to one another on a given geologic period.
The only correlation I know about that has been studied is between K-Ar and Rb-Sr dating on precambrian rock. And even for this one, the results were not very good. This was a reference by Hurley and Rand, cited in Woodmorappe's paper.
As far as I know, no study has been done to determine how different methods correlate on the geologic column excluding precambrian rock. The reason for my request is that a correlation is not implied by the fact that there are only 10 percent anomalies, or whatever. I showed that the fact that the great majority of dates come from one method K-Ar and the fact that many igneous bodies have very wide biostratigraphic limits, where many dates are acceptable, makes the percentage of anomalies irrelevant to the question I am asking.
And since this agreement is the strongest argument for the reliability of radiometric dating, such an assumption of agreement appears to be without support so far. The question of whether different methods correlate on the geologic column is not an easy one to answer for additional reasons. Since the bulk of K-Ar dates are generally accepted as correct, one may say that certain minerals are reliable if they tend to give similar dates, and unreliable otherwise. We can also say that certain formations tend to give reliable dates and others do not, depending on whether the dates agree with K-Ar dates.
Thus we can get an apparent correlation of different methods without much of a real correlation in nature. It's also possible for other matter to be incorporated into lava as it rises, without being thoroughly melted, and this matter may inherit all of its old correlated radiometric dates.
Coffin mentions that fission tracks can survive transport through lava, for example.
It may also be that lava is produced by melting the bottom of continents and successively different layers are melted with time, or there could be a tendency for lighter isotopes to come to the top of magma chambers, making the lava there appear older. But anyway, I think it is important really to know what patterns appear in the data to try to understand if there is a correlation and what could be causing it.
Not knowing if anomalies are always published makes this harder. It is often mentioned that different methods agree on the K-T boundary, dated at about 65 million years ago. This is when the dinosaurs are assumed to have become extinct. This agreement of different methods is taken as evidence for a correlation between methods on the geologic column.
One study found some correlated dates from bentonite that are used to estimate the date of the K-T boundary. I looked up some information on bentonite. It is composed of little glass beads that come from volcanic ash. This is formed when lava is sticky and bubbles of gas in it explode. So these small particles of lava cool very fast. The rapid cooling might mean that any enclosed argon is retained, but if not, the fact that this cooling occurs near the volcano, with a lot of argon coming out, should guarantee that these beads would have excess argon.
As the gas bubble explodes, its enclosed argon will be rushing outward along with these tiny bubbles as they cool. This will cause them to retain argon and appear too old. In addition, the rapid cooling and the process of formation means that these beads would have Rb, Sr, U, and Pb concentrations the same as the lava they came from, since there is no chance for crystals to form with such rapid cooling.