Relative Vs. Absolute Dating: The Ultimate Face-off
I. Relative Dating. Relative Dating is when you give the age of a rock or fossil compared to another rock or fossil. Example: Rock A is OLDER than Rock B. Although both relative and absolute dating methods are used to estimate the age of Metamorphic Rock Facts: Types of Metamorphic Rocks. There are absolute ages and there are relative ages. We use a variety of laboratory techniques to figure out absolute ages of rocks, often having disappearances of different kinds of fossils on Earth to divide Earth's history.
There are two basic approaches: Here is an easy-to understand analogy for your students: Absolute age dating is like saying you are 15 years old and your grandfather is 77 years old.
To determine the relative age of different rocks, geologists start with the assumption that unless something has happened, in a sequence of sedimentary rock layers, the newer rock layers will be on top of older ones. This is called the Rule of Superposition. This rule is common sense, but it serves as a powerful reference point. Geologists draw on it and other basic principles http: Relative age dating also means paying attention to crosscutting relationships.
Say for example that a volcanic dike, or a fault, cuts across several sedimentary layers, or maybe through another volcanic rock type. Pretty obvious that the dike came after the rocks it cuts through, right? With absolute age dating, you get a real age in actual years. Based on the Rule of Superposition, certain organisms clearly lived before others, during certain geologic times.
The narrower a range of time that an animal lived, the better it is as an index of a specific time. No bones about it, fossils are important age markers. But the most accurate forms of absolute age dating are radiometric methods.
This method works because some unstable radioactive isotopes of some elements decay at a known rate into daughter products. This rate of decay is called a half-life. Half-life simply means the amount of time it takes for half of a remaining particular isotope to decay to a daughter product.
Good discussion from the US Geological Survey: There are a couple catches, of course. Not all rocks have radioactive elements.
Relative dating - Wikipedia
Sedimentary rocks in particular are notoriously radioactive-free zones. So to date those, geologists look for layers like volcanic ash that might be sandwiched between the sedimentary layers, and that tend to have radioactive elements.
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. 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.Laws of Relative Rock Dating
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.
Relative and absolute ages in the histories of Earth and the Moon: The Geologic Time Scale
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.
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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.
Relative Vs. Absolute Dating: The Ultimate Face-off
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. Based on principles laid out by William Smith almost a hundred years before the publication of Charles Darwin 's theory of evolutionthe principles of succession were developed independently of evolutionary thought.
The principle becomes quite complex, however, given the uncertainties of fossilization, the localization of fossil types due to lateral changes in habitat facies change in sedimentary strataand that not all fossils may be found globally at the same time.
As a result, rocks that are otherwise similar, but are now separated by a valley or other erosional feature, can be assumed to be originally continuous. Layers of sediment do not extend indefinitely; rather, the limits can be recognized and are controlled by the amount and type of sediment available and the size and shape of the sedimentary basin.
Sediment will continue to be transported to an area and it will eventually be deposited. However, the layer of that material will become thinner as the amount of material lessens away from the source. Often, coarser-grained material can no longer be transported to an area because the transporting medium has insufficient energy to carry it to that location.
In its place, the particles that settle from the transporting medium will be finer-grained, and there will be a lateral transition from coarser- to finer-grained material. The lateral variation in sediment within a stratum is known as sedimentary facies. If sufficient sedimentary material is available, it will be deposited up to the limits of the sedimentary basin. Often, the sedimentary basin is within rocks that are very different from the sediments that are being deposited, in which the lateral limits of the sedimentary layer will be marked by an abrupt change in rock type.
Inclusions of igneous rocks[ edit ] Multiple melt inclusions in an olivine crystal.