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Earth’s history and Geological Time Scale

(Radioactive Dating)

Previous Class: Earth’s history and Geological

Time Scale
(Radioactive Dating)
Unconformi)es in the
Grand Canyon

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© 2011 Pearson Education, Inc.
Absolute Da,ng: Radioac,ve Isotopes
“Nuclide” = a particular atom
An atom is made up of a nucleus and surrounding electrons
The nucleus is made up of protons and neutrons (& other tiny, tiny
particles)Particle Mass Charge

Proton 1.007593 amu = 1.6726231 x 10-27 kg +1

Neutron 1.008982 amu = 1.6703205 x 10-27 kg 0

Electron 0.000548756 amu = 9.10093897 x 10-31 kg -1

Z = proton number = No. of protons in the nucleus; defines an

N = neutron number = No of neutrons in the nucleus

A = mass number = Z + N
So what is an isotope?
Isotope = line of equal Z (no. of
nuclides with the same No. of
protons (therefore they are the
same element), but variable N;
e.g. 12C, 13C, 14C are isotopes

Isotone = line of equal N (no. of

nuclides with the same # of
neutrons, but variable Z;
e.g. 37Cl & 39K are isotones
(both have 20 neutrons)

Isobar = Equal mass;

nuclides with the same mass
number, but variable N and Z;
e.g. 12C, 12B, 12Be are isobars

•  For a given chemical element, one defines an isotope as follows: an isotope has a
number of protons and electrons (Z) and a variable number of nucleons. The
number of neutrons is variable.

•  Example: uranium has two well known isotopes:

235U and 238U

•  For 235U : Z=92, A=235 , N=A-Z=143 neutrons

•  For 238U : Z=92, A=238 , N=A-Z=146 neutrons

•  Example: 14C and 12C:

•  14C has 6 electrons, 6 protons, 8 neutrons
•  12C has 6 electrons, 6 neutrons, 6 protons.
Nuclear Stability
What makes a nucleus stable is something called its “Binding energy”

Mass and energy are interchangeable (Einstein)

E = mc2 EB = Δm c2
(Conversion factor for mass to energy: 1 amu = 931.5 MeV)
Δm = mass defect, C =velocity of light, EB = Nuclear stability

EB is a measure of nuclear stability: those nuclei with the largest

binding energy per nucleon are the most stable.
•  Mass:
The mass of a nuclide is given in amu (atomic mass unit)

Defini,on: M(12C)=12 amu
mproton≈mneutron≈1 amu

•  The mass of one atom of carbon 12 (12C) is determined by mass

spectrometry and is equal to 1.9922x10-23 g

•  This implies 1 C= 1.6605655x10-24 g

•  Mass defect:
One should have M(12C)=6Mn+6Mp+6Me

There is a mass difference between the sum of masses of par,cles
making the atom and the mass of the atom.

where Mp, Mn et Me are the proton, neutron, electron masses

“The whole is less than the sum of its parts”

Types of radioactive decay
•  Alpha emission
– Emission of two protons and two neutrons (an alpha
– Mass number is reduced by 4, and the atomic number
is lowered by 2

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Da)ng with Radioac)vity
Types of radioactive decay
•  Beta emission
– An electron (beta particle) is ejected from the nucleus.
– Mass number remains unchanged and the atomic
number increases by 1

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Da)ng with Radioac)vity
Types of radioactive decay
•  Electron capture
– An electron is captured by the nucleus and combines
with a proton to form a neutron.
– Mass number remains unchanged and the atomic
number decreases by 1

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Da)ng with Radioac)vity
•  Parent—an unstable radioactive isotope
•  Daughter product—the isotopes resulting
from the decay of a parent
•  Half-life—the time required for one-half of
the radioactive nuclei in a sample to decay

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Central path of stability
This table represents all the known
nuclides. The stable nuclides are shown as
black dots .


Z The stability of a nucleus depends on its ratio of N/Z

N Stable nuclides plot along a central path of stability

At low masses, N/Z ≈ 1 (Z=N)
At high masses, N/Z ≈ 3
Chart of nuclides (2)
β+ or EC
Number of protons


Number of neutrons
Dr. Indra Sekhar Sen E-mail: hDp://
Da)ng with Radioac)vity

The actual number of atoms that decay (radioactive parent)

continually decreases and the number of stable daughter atoms
(radiogenic daughter) increases.
Radioac)ve-Decay Curve
One half-life

Two half-lives
Three half-lives

Four half-lives

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Isotopes Commonly Used in
Radiometric Da)ng
Isotopes with a long enough half-life to have geological significance
87Rb→ 87Sr+β− (+υ +Q) 48.8x109 years
147Sm→ 143Nd + α +Q 1.06x1011 years
176Lu→ 176Hf+β-(+υ + Q) 3.53x1010 years ?
187Re→ 187Os+β- (+υ +Q) 4.56x1010 years
238U→ 206Pb+ 8α +6β- + Q 4.468x109 years
235U→ 207Pb +7α+4β- +Q 0.7038x109 years
232Th→ 208Pb + 6α +4β- +Q 14.010x109 years

40K+e→ 40Ar +γ (11%) 1.25x109 years

The only equation you have to memorize

D* = radiogenic daughter, N daughter atoms

D = D0 + N (eλt –1) produced by radioactive decay of a parent

Example :
Divide by a stable, non-radiogenic isotope of the
daughter element to get ratios e.g. for 87Rb → 87Sr +

87Sr/86Sr = (87Sr/86Sr)0 + 87Rb/86Sr (eλt –1)

87Rb-87Sr decay equation
87 Rb/Sr= Rb/Sr=1.2
Sr ⎛ 87 Sr ⎞ 87 Rb λt 0.8
= ⎜ 86 ⎟ + 86 (e − 1) ROCK
Sr ⎝ Sr ⎠i Sr (87Sr/86Sr)
i= 0.702

measured measured
when you crystallize a rock,
you will always have some Sr


t=Time of
So how do you determine the initial 87Sr/86Sr ratio?

Because igneous rocks are so heterogeneous,

different mineral phases will have different Rb/Sr
ratios, even though they have the same crystallization MANTLE
age and the same 87Sr/86Sr initial. 87Sr/86Sr
= 0.702
We can use the radioactive decay equation to calculate the age
of a sample. We can measure the present day ratios and λ, but
we still have 2 unknowns: D0 and t. What can we do?
1) Assume zero initial daughter. This approach can be
valid if you know something about mineralogy.
2) Use 2 different isotope systems. For example, if you
know what the age should be from a system where you
think you know the initial daughter ratio (e.g. U-Pb), you
can calculate the initial daughter ratio.
3) Assume one and calculate the other. If we assume
the initial ratio and calculate an age, it is called a “Model
4) Use an isochron diagram
The Isochron
The radioactive decay equation is in the form of a line:
D = D0 + P(eλt-1) … y = b + xm
Plot D ratio vs. P/D for several comagmatic or cogenetic
samples and draw a best fit line through the data
y-intercept = initial D ratio, slope is related to t
This line is called an “Isochron”
Represents true age if:
(1) The system was at isotopic equilibrium at time t = 0.
I.e. all the samples formed with the same initial
daughter isotope ratio
(2) Closed system since formation

Whole-rock isochron represents age of formation

Mineral isochron represents age of last metamorphosis