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Geologic time. time is critical for geologic processes Rockies and Alps are ~3000 m tall Atlantic Ocean is ~5000 km across for comparison: fingernail.

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Presentation on theme: "Geologic time. time is critical for geologic processes Rockies and Alps are ~3000 m tall Atlantic Ocean is ~5000 km across for comparison: fingernail."— Presentation transcript:

1 geologic time

2 time is critical for geologic processes Rockies and Alps are ~3000 m tall Atlantic Ocean is ~5000 km across for comparison: fingernail grows at 1 cm/yr -- mountains grow at ~1 meter per 5000 yrs (0.2 mm/yr) m x 5000 yr/m = 15,000,000 (yrs necessary) -- today, seafloor spreading in Atlantic is ~4 cm/yr km = 6000 km x 1000 m/km x 100 cm/m = 600,000,000 cm ,000,000 cm / 4 cm/yr = 150,000,000 years

3 age of the Earth prior to 19th century, accepted age from religious beliefs -- 6,000 years for Western culture (Christian) …Bishop Usher from geneology in the Bible -- old beyond comprehension (Hindu/Buddhist/Chinese) during 19th century, length of time required for geologic processes to occur was recognized -- age not certain (Islam) -- fundamental contribution of geology to scientific knowledge

4 James Hutton ( ) Father of Modern Geology native of Edinburgh, Scotland educated as a medical doctor in Leiden (1749) passionate about scientific inquiry historical developments Theory of the Earth -- processes are slow; take a long time Charles Lyell ( ) Scotsman who attended Oxford University father was an avid naturalist rebelled against prevailing thought of catastrophism. Principles of Geology -- popularized Huttons views idea of uniformitarianism -- same processes operating today occurred in the past ….the present is the key to the past….

5 the key to the past study of timing of geologic events and processes is geochronology relative time vs. absolute time relative time order of events or objects from first (oldest) to last (youngest) she is older than he is; she was born first and he was born last age of events or objects expressed numerically she is twenty-one and he is nineteen absolute time

6 relative time and relative order apply simple concepts to determine… original horizontality superposition lateral continuity cross-cutting relationships inclusions unconformities

7 relative age dating concepts original horizontality all beds originally deposited in water formed in horizontal layers sediments will settle to bottom and blanket the sea floor

8 relative age dating concepts superposition within a sequence of undisturbed sedimentary or volcanic rocks, oldest rocks are at the bottom and youngest at the top ….young upward… oldest youngest lateral continuity original sedimentary layers extend laterally until they thin at edges continue

9 relative age dating concepts cross-cutting relationships a disrupted pattern is older than the cause of the disruption e.g. an intrusion is younger than the rocks it intrudes

10 relative age dating concepts inclusions fragments of other rocks contained in a body of rock must be older than the host rock e.g. 1)xenoliths in granite are older than granite and 2) pieces of rock in conglomerate are older than conglomerate

11 relative age dating concepts unconformities a contact between sedimentary formations that represents a gap in the geologic record -- gap represented is variable (i.e. amount of time or the amount of missing section) different types of unconformities conformity relatively continuous deposition deposition of a sequence of parallel layers contacts between formations do not represent significant amounts of time

12 from: conformity

13 relative age dating concepts different types of unconformities angular unconformity contact separates overlying younger layers from tilted older layers sequence of layers is not parallel contacts between formations may represent significant amounts of time angular unconformity

14 from: edu/envstudies/parks/rmgcan2.html

15 angular unconformity


17 relative age dating concepts different types of unconformities disconformity contact separates beds (formations) that are parallel sequence of layers is parallel contacts between formations may represent significant amounts of time missing time is difficult to recognize (may need other information--paleosol?)

18 relative age dating concepts different types of unconformities nonconformity strata deposited on older crystalline (metamorphic/igneous) rock erosion surface on igneous/metamorphic rock covered by sedimentary rocks large gap in geologic record nonconformity

19 what events occur? angular unconformity

20 what events occur? nonconformity

21 now that we know all this…what happened?


23 deposition

24 intrusion

25 tilting and erosion

26 subsidence and renewed deposition

27 missing formation (time)?

28 dike intrusion

29 erosion and exposure

30 subsidence and deposition

31 uplift/sea level fall and river deposition

32 relative ages of the formations

33 correlation -- determining time equivalency of rocks within a region, between continents, etc. physical continuity relative age: correlation physically following a continuous exposure of a rock unit --most direct; easily done in some locations, not in others e.g. within the Grand Canyon how is this done? lithologic similarity assuming similar sequences of rocks formed at same time -- inaccurate if common rocks are involved e.g. the Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks

34 Coconino Sandstone physical continuity -- Coconino Sandstone in Grand Canyon

35 lithologic similarity -- Coconino and Navajo Sandstones

36 Navajo is much younger!

37 faunal succession (correlation by fossils) relative age: correlation how is this done? index fossil short-lived organism; points to narrow range of geologic time fossil species succeed one another through the layers in a predictable order fossil assemblage group of fossils associated together



40 similar units found in India, Africa, S. America, Australia, Antarctica. use of index fossils/fossil assemblages permits global correlation

41 established initially as a relative scale using sedimentary rocks and fossils absolute ages were determined later with radiometric dating


43 natural clock is necessary -- radiometric dating (nuclear clock: decay of radioactive isotopes) -- dendrochrolonology -- astronomical methods absolute time

44 age of the Earth early methods: long debated 1625: Archbishop Usher determined Earth was created in 4004 B.C. by counting generations in the Bible Hindus regarded Earth as old: 2000 A.D. is 1.97 million years according to Hindu calendar 1866: Lord Kelvin calculated age by assuming that Earth was molten and cooled to a solid; age between million years old. - did not know about radioactive decay (makes heat) - assumed all heat dissipated by conduction early isotopic methods (radioactivity known in 1896) 1905: first crude estimates yielded 2 billion year age meteorites gave dates of 4.5 to 4.6 billion years old modern uranium/lead methods yield values of 4.55 billion years

45 have nuclei that spontaneously decay daughterparent loss or gain loss or gain of neutron converts parent to daughter of same element loss or gain of proton changes parent into entirely new daughter radioactive isotopes -- emit or capture subatomic particles parent: decaying radioactive isotope daughter: decay daughter

46 3 primary ways of decay alpha decay (Z 58) beta decay (n 0 = p + + e - ) electron capture (e - + p + = n 0 ) capture of an electron by a proton and change of proton to neutron (result is loss of proton) K 40 Ar protons18 protons particle has 2 neutrons and 2 protons U 238 Th protons90 protons breakdown of neutron into an electron and a proton and loss of the electron to leave a proton (result is gain of one proton) K 40 Ca protons20 protons

47 radiometric dating as minerals crystallize in magma; they trap atoms of radioactive isotopes in their crystal structures radioactive isotopes will decay immediately and continuously as time passes, rock contains less parent and more daughter uses continuous decay to measure time since rock formed only possible since late 1890s -- radioactivity discovered in 1896

48 amount of time it takes for half the atoms of the parent isotope to decay if rock has 12 parents and 12 daughters--ratio of 1:1 …original rock had 24 parents and one half-life has elapsed… …after another half life, rock will have 6 parents and 18 daughters… …ratio of 1:3---note that total number (24) remains the same regardless of isotope, the ratio of parent to daughter atoms is predictable at each half-life half-life different radioactive isotopes have different and distinct half-lives

49 predictable ratios at each half-life exponential decay (half always remains)

50 exponential decay: never goes to zero exponentiallinear

51 example: Uranium 238 decay to Lead 206 (stable) several steps (each has its own half-life)

52 most common dating systems uranium-thorium-lead dating (previous example) U-238, U-235, Th-232 each of these decays through a series of steps to Pb U-238 to Pb-206half-life = 4.5 by U-235 to Pb-207half-life = 713 my Th-232 to Pb-208half-life = 14.1 my potassium-argon dating K-40 to Ar-40half-life = 1.3 by …argon is a gas--may escape (ages too young--daughter missing) rubidium-strontium dating Rb-87 to Sr-87half-life = 47 by

53 basic geochronological assumptions decay constants constant through geological time igneous rocks are most reliable for dating …metamorphism may cause loss of daughter products… …sedimentary rocks will give ages of source rocks… system closed to adding or subtracting of parent/daughter -- good reasons to believe this is correct from nuclear physics -- measurements of decay sequences in ancient supernovae yield the same values as modern lab measurements -- isotopic system and type of mineral (rock) are important -- careful procedure is essential to correct analysis

54 Instruments and Techniques Mass Spectrometry: measure different abundances of specific nuclides based solely on atomic mass. –Basic technique requires ionization of the atomic species of interest and acceleration through a strong magnetic field to cause separation between closely similar masses (e.g. 87 Sr and 86 Sr). Count individual particles using electronic detectors. –TIMS: thermal ionization mass spectrometry –SIMS: secondary ionization mass spectrometry - bombard target with heavy ions or use a laser Sample Preparation: TIMS requires doing chemical separation using chromatographic columns.

55 Clean Lab - Chemical Preparation

56 Thermal Ionization Mass Spectrometer From:

57 Schematic of Sector MS

58 Zircon Laser Ablation Pit

59 Rate Law for Radioactive Decay P t = P o exp - (t o –t) 1st order rate law

60 Rb/Sr Age Dating Equation

61 Rb/Sr Isochron Systematics M1M1 M2M2 M3M3

62 Independent Checks on Radiometric Ages Correlation of erosion with age on Hawaiian Island Chain: Dates increase in age to the NW as does erosion. Annual growth bands in Devonian corals: 400/yr yields date that is similar to radiometric date. Consistent with slowing of Earth rotation with time. Independent determination of Pacific plate motion yields age progression that is consistent with K/Ar dates of the island chains formed by hotspots. Agreement between magnetic age from deep marine sediments and radiometric ages of tuffs in East African Rift

63 annual growth of trees produces concentric rings …dating back to 9000 years is possible… photo © H.D. Grissino-Mayer Other dating methods: dendrochronology - rings need to be calibrated against C-14 dates to yield true numerical age - other information may also be obtained from rings, including rainfall and temperature - can develop composite chronologies for specific regions of interest for climate studies

64 relative and absolute dates combined same example as in relative age

65 geological time scale eons, eras, periods, epochs Oldest rock fragments: W. Australia detrital zircons Oldest rocks: Greenland gneisses

66 earliest life cyanobacteria: primitive single-celled organisms found in Australia and dated at 3.7 billion years old modern equivalents in Sharks Bay, Australia

67 proportional time scale

68 combine relative and absolute time for geologic time scale

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