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Relative time allows scientists to tell the story of Earth events, but does not provide specific numeric ages, and thus, the rate at which geologic processes operate. Relative dating principles was how scientists interpreted Earth history until the end of the 19th Century. Because science advances as technology advances, the discovery of radioactivity in the late s provided scientists with a new scientific tool called radioisotopic dating. Using this new technology, they could assign specific time units, in this case years, to mineral grains within a rock. These numerical values are not dependent on comparisons with other rocks such as with relative dating, so this dating method is called absolute dating [ 5 ]. There are several types of absolute dating discussed in this section but radioisotopic dating is the most common and therefore is the focus on this section.

Dark dike cutting across older rocks, the lighter of which is younger than the grey rock. Principle of I nclusions: When one rock formation contains pieces or inclusions of another rock, the included rock is older than the host rock. Principle of Fossil Succession: Evolution has produced a succession of unique fossils that correlate to the units of the geologic time scale. Assemblages of fossils contained in strata are unique to the time they lived, and can be used to correlate rocks of the same age across a wide geographic distribution.

Assemblages of fossils refers to groups of several unique fossils occurring together. The Grand Canyon of Arizona illustrates the stratigraphic principles. The photo shows layers of rock on top of one another in order, from the oldest at the bottom to the youngest at the top, based on the principle of superposition. The predominant white layer just below the canyon rim is the Coconino Sandstone. This layer is laterally continuous, even though the intervening canyon separates its outcrops.

The rock layers exhibit the principle of lateral continuityas they are found on both sides of the Grand Canyon which has been carved by the Colorado River.

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In the lowest parts of the Grand Canyon are the oldest sedimentary formationswith igneous and metamorphic rocks at the bottom. The principle of cross-cutting relationships shows the sequence of these events. The metamorphic schist 16 is the oldest rock formation and the cross-cutting granite intrusion 17 is younger. As seen in the figure, the other layers on the walls of the Grand Canyon are numbered in reverse order with 15 being the oldest and 1 the youngest.

This illustrates the principle of superposition. The Grand Canyon region lies in Colorado Plateau, which is characterized by horizontal or nearly horizontal stratawhich follows the principle of original horizontality. These rock strata have been barely disturbed from their original depositionexcept by a broad regional uplift. The red, layered rocks of the Grand Canyon Supergroup overlying the dark-colored rocks of the Vishnu schist represents a type of unconformity called a nonconformity.

Because the formation of the basement rocks and the deposition of the overlying strata is not continuous but broken by events of metamorphismintrusion, and erosionthe contact between the strata and the older basement is termed an unconformity. An unconformity represents a period during which deposition did not occur or erosion removed rock that had been deposited, so there are no rocks that represent events of Earth history during that span of time at that place.

Unconformities appear in cross sections and stratigraphic columns as wavy lines between formations. Unconformities are discussed in the next section. There are three types of unconformitiesnonconformitydisconformityand angular unconformity.

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A nonconformity occurs when sedimentary rock is deposited on top of igneous and metamorphic rocks as is the case with the contact between the strata and basement rocks at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The strata in the Grand Canyon represent alternating marine transgressions and regressions where sea level rose and fell over millions of years.

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When the sea level was high marine strata formed. When sea-level fell, the land was exposed to erosion creating an unconformity. In the Grand Canyon cross-section, this erosion is shown as heavy wavy lines between the various numbered strata. This is a type of unconformity called a disconformitywhere either non- deposition or erosion took place. In other words, layers of rock that could have been present, are absent.

The time that could have been represented by such layers is instead represented by the disconformity. Disconformities are unconformities that occur between parallel layers of strata indicating either a period of no deposition or erosion. In the lower part of the picture is an angular unconformity in the Grand Canyon known as the Great Unconformity.

Notice flat lying strata over dipping strata Source: Doug Dolde. The Phanerozoic strata in most of the Grand Canyon are horizontal. However, near the bottom horizontal strata overlie tilted strata. This is known as the Great Unconformity and is an example of an angular unconformity. The lower strata were tilted by tectonic processes that disturbed their original horizontality and caused the strata to be eroded.

Later, horizontal strata were deposited on top of the tilted strata creating the angular unconformity. Here are three graphical illustrations of the three types of unconformity. Disconformitywhere is a break or stratigraphic absence between strata in an otherwise parallel sequence of strata.

Block diagram to apply relative dating principles. The wavy rock is a old metamorphic gneiss, A and F are faults, B is an igneous granite, D is a basaltic dike, and C and E are sedimentary strata. In the block diagram, the sequence of geological events can be determined by using the relative-dating principles and known properties of igneoussedimentary, metamorphic rock see Chapter 4Chapter 5and Chapter 6. The sequence begins with the folded metamorphic gneiss on the bottom.

Next, the gneiss is cut and displaced by the fault labeled A. Both the gneiss and fault A are cut by the igneous granitic intrusion called batholith B; its irregular outline suggests it is an igneous granitic intrusion emplaced as magma into the gneiss.

Since batholith B cuts both the gneiss and fault A, batholith B is younger than the other two rock formations. Next, the gneissfault A, and batholith B were eroded forming a nonconformity as shown with the wavy line. This unconformity was actually an ancient landscape surface on which sedimentary rock C was subsequently deposited perhaps by a marine transgression.

Next, igneous basaltic dike A narrow igneous intrusion that cuts through existing rock, not along bedding planes. This shows that there is a disconformity between sedimentary rocks C and E. The top of dike A narrow igneous intrusion that cuts through existing rock, not along bedding planes. Fault F cuts across all of the older rocks B, C and E, producing a fault scarpwhich is the low ridge on the upper-left side of the diagram.

The final events affecting this area are current erosion processes working on the land surface, rounding off the edge of the fault scarpand producing the modern landscape at the top of the diagram. Relative time allows scientists to tell the story of Earth events, but does not provide specific numeric ages, and thus, the rate at which geologic processes operate.

Relative dating principles was how scientists interpreted Earth history until the end of the 19th Century. Because science advances as technology advances, the discovery of radioactivity in the late s provided scientists with a new scientific tool called radioisotopic dating.

Using this new technology, they could assign specific time units, in this case years, to mineral grains within a rock. These numerical values are not dependent on comparisons with other rocks such as with relative datingso this dating method is called absolute dating. There are several types of absolute dating discussed in this section but radioisotopic dating is the most common and therefore is the focus on this section.

All elements on the Periodic Table of Elements see Chapter 3 contain isotopes.

May 20,   Radiometric dating. Most absolute dates for rocks are obtained with radiometric methods. These use radioactive minerals in rocks as geological clocks. The atoms of some chemical elements have different forms, called isotopes. These break down over time in a process scientists call radioactive decay. Other Absolute Dating Techniques; References; Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Canada's Nuvvuagittuq Greenstone Belt may have the oldest rocks and oldest evidence life on Earth, according to recent studies. Relative time allows scientists to tell the story of Earth events, but does not provide specific numeric ages, and thus, the rate at. Dating, in geology, determining a chronology or calendar of events in the history of Earth, using to a large degree the evidence of organic evolution in the sedimentary rocks accumulated through geologic time in marine and continental truthexchange-sow.com date past events, processes, formations, and fossil organisms, geologists employ a variety of techniques.

An isotope is an atom of an element with a different number of neutrons. For example, hydrogen H always has 1 proton in its nucleus the atomic numberbut the number of neutrons can vary among the isotopes 0, 1, 2.

Recall that the number of neutrons added to the atomic number gives the atomic mass.

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When hydrogen has 1 proton and 0 neutrons it is sometimes called protium 1 Hwhen hydrogen has 1 proton and 1 neutron it is called deuterium 2 Hand when hydrogen has 1 proton and 2 neutrons it is called tritium 3 H. Many elements have both stable and unstable isotopes.

For the hydrogen example, 1 H and 2 H are stable, but 3 H is unstable.

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Unstable isotopescalled radioactive isotopesspontaneously decay over time releasing subatomic particles or energy in a process called radioactive decay. When this occurs, an unstable isotope becomes a more stable isotope of another element. For example, carbon 14 C decays to nitrogen 14 N.

Simulation of half-life. On the left, 4 simulations with only a few atoms. On the right, 4 simulations with many atoms. The radioactive decay of any individual atom is a completely utruthexchange-sow.comedictable and random event.

However, some rock specimens have an enormous number of radioactive isotopesperhaps trillions of atoms, and this large group of radioactive isotopes does have a predictable pattern of radioactive decay. The radioactive decay of half of the radioactive isotopes in this group takes a specific amount of time.

The time is takes for half of the atoms in a substance to decay is called the half-life. In other words, the half-life of an isotope is the amount of time it takes for half of a group of unstable isotopes to decay to a stable isotope.

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The half-life is constant and measurable for a given radioactive isotopeso it can be used to calculate the age of a rock. For example, the half-life uranium U is 4. The principles behind this dating method require two key assumptions.

First, the mineral grains containing the isotope formed at the same time as the rock, such as minerals in an igneous rock that crystallized from magma. Second, the mineral crystals remain a closed systemmeaning they are not subsequently altered by elements moving in or out of them. These requirements place some constraints on the kinds of rock suitable for dating, with igneous rock being the best. Metamorphic rocks are crystalline, but the processes of metamorphism may reset the clock and derived ages may represent a smear of different metamorphic events rather than the age of original crystallization.

Detrital sedimentary rocks contain clasts from separate parent rocks from unknown locations and derived ages are thus meaningless.

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However, sedimentary rocks with precipitated mineralssuch as evaporitesmay contain elements suitable for radioisotopic dating. Igneous pyroclastic layers and lava Liquid rock on the surface of the Earth.

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Cross-cutting igneous rocks and sill A type of dike that is parallel to bedding planes within the bedrock. There are several ways radioactive atoms decay. We will consider three of them here- alpha decaybeta decayand electron capture. Alpha decay is when an alpha particle, which consists of two protons and two neutrons, is emitted from the nucleus of an atom.

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This also happens to be the nucleus of a helium atom; helium gas may get trapped in the crystal lattice of a mineral in which alpha decay has taken place. When an atom loses two protons from its nucleus, lowering its atomic number, it is transformed into an element that is two atomic numbers lower on the Periodic Table of the Elements.

Periodic Table of the Elements The loss of four particles, in this case two neutrons and two protons, also lowers the mass of the atom by four. For example alpha decay takes place in the unstable isotope U, which has an atomic number of 92 92 protons and mass number of total of all protons and neutrons.

When U spontaneously emits an alpha particle, it becomes thorium Th. The radioactive decay product of an element is called its daughter isotope and the original element is called the parent isotope. In this case, U is the parent isotope and Th is the daughter isotope. The half-life of U is 4. This isotope of uranium, U, can be used for absolute dating the oldest materials found on Earth, and even meteorites and materials from the earliest events in our solar system. Beta decay is when a neutron in its nucleus splits into an electron and a proton.

The electron is emitted from the nucleus as a beta ray. For example, Th is unstable and undergoes beta decay to form protactinium Pawhich also undergoes beta decay to form uranium U. Notice these are all isotopes of different elements but they have the same atomic mass of The decay process of radioactive elements like uranium keeps producing radioactive parents and daughters until a stable, or non- radioactivedaughter is formed.

Such a series is called a decay chain. The decay chain of the radioactive parent isotope U progresses through a series of alpha red arrows on the adjacent figure and beta decays blue arrowsuntil it forms the stable daughter isotopelead Pb. The two paths of electron capture Electron capture is when a proton in the nucleus captures an electron from one of the electron shells and becomes a neutron. This produces one of two different effects: 1 an electron jumps in to fill the missing spot of the departed electron and emits an X-ray, or 2 in what is called the Auger process, another electron is released and changes the atom into an ion An atom or molecule that has a charge positive or negative due to the loss or gain of electrons.

The atomic number is reduced by one and mass number remains the same. An example of an element that decays by electron capture is potassium 40 K. Radioactive 40 K makes up a tiny percentage 0. Below is a table of some of the more commonly-used radioactive dating isotopes and their half-lives. Some common isotopes used for radioisotopic dating. For a given a sample of rock, how is the dating procedure carried out? The parent and daughter isotopes are separated out of the mineral using chemical extraction.

In the case of uranium, U and U isotopes are separated out together, as are the Pb and Pb with an instrument called a mass spectrometer. Graph of number of half-lives vs.

This can be further calculated for a series of half-lives as shown in the table. The table does not show more than 10 half-lives because after about 10 half-lives, the amount of remaining parent is so small it becomes too difficult to accurately measure via chemical analysis. Modern applications of this method have achieved remarkable accuracies of plus or minus two million years in 2. The existence of these two clocks in the same sample gives a cross-check between the two. Ratio of parent to daughter in terms of half-life.

Schematic of carbon going through a mass spectrometer. Another radioisotopic dating method involves carbon and is useful for dating archaeologically important samples containing organic substances like wood or bone.

Radiocarbon datingalso called carbon dating, uses the unstable isotope carbon 14 C and the stable isotope carbon 12 C.

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Carbon is constantly being created in the atmosphere by the interaction of cosmic particles with atmospheric nitrogen 14 N. Cosmic particles such as neutrons strike the nitrogen nucleus, kicking out a proton but leaving the neutron in the nucleus. The collision reduces the atomic number by one, changing it from seven to six, changing the nitrogen into carbon with the same mass number of The 14 C quickly bond Two or more atoms or ions that are connected chemically.

However, when it dies, the radiocarbon clock starts ticking as the 14 C decays back to 14 N by beta decaywhich has a half-life of 5, years. The radiocarbon dating technique is thus useful for 57, years or so, about 10 half-lives back.

Radiocarbon dating relies on daughter-to-parent ratios derived from a known quantity of parent 14 C. Early applications of carbon dating assumed the production and concentration of 14 C in the atmosphere remained fairly constant for the last 50, years.

However, it is now known that the amount of parent 14 C levels in the atmosphere. Comparisons of carbon ages with tree-ring data and other data for known events have allowed reliable calibration of the radiocarbon dating method. Taking into account carbon baseline levels must be calibrated against other reliable dating methods, carbon dating has been shown to be a reliable method for dating archaeological specimens and very recent geologic events.

The work of Hutton and other scientists gained attention after the Renaissance see Chapter 1spurring exploration into the idea of an ancient Earth. In the late 19 th century William Thompson, a.

Geologic Time Scale. Rock ages, both absolute and relative, are useful because the rocks represent events in Earth's history such as the age of fossils or major geologic events like meteors and. With a combination of relative and absolute dating, the history of geological events, age of Earth, and a geologic time scale have been determined with considerable accuracy. Stratigraphic correlation is additional tool used for understanding how depositional environments change geographically. Jul 31,   Geologic Time Scale. The geologic time scale began to take shape in the s. Geologists first used relative age dating principles to chart the chronological order of rocks around the world. It wasn't until the advent of radiometric age dating techniques in the middle s that reliable numerical dates could be assigned to the previously.

Lord Kelvin, applied his knowledge of physics to develop the assumption that the Earth started as a hot molten sphere. He estimated the Earth is 98 million years old, but because of uncertainties in his calculations stated the age as a range of between 20 and million years. This animation illustrates how Kelvin calculated this range and why his numbers were so far off, which has to do with unequal heat transfer within the Earth.

Patterson analyzed meteorite samples for uranium and lead using a mass spectrometer. The current estimate for the age of the Earth is 4. It is remarkable that Patterson, who was still a graduate student at the University of Chicago, came up with a result that has been little altered in over 60 years, even as technology has improved dating methods.

Radioactive isotopes of elements that are common in mineral crystals are useful for radioisotopic dating. Zircon is resistant to weathering which makes it useful for dating geological events in ancient rocks.

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During metamorphic events, zircon crystals may form multiple crystal layers, with each layer recording the isotopic age of an event, thus tracing the progress of the several metamorphic events. Geologists have used zircon grains to do some amazing studies that illustrate how scientific conclusions can change with technological advancements. Zircon crystals from Western Australia that formed when the crust first differentiated from the mantle 4.

The zircon grains were incorporated into metasedimentary host rocks, sedimentary rocks showing signs of having undergone partial metamorphism. The host rocks were not very old but the embedded zircon grains were created 4. From other properties of the zircon crystals, researchers concluded that not only were continental rocks exposed above sea level, but also that conditions on the early Earth were cool enough for liquid water to exist on the surface.

The presence of liquid water allowed the processes of weathering and erosion to take place.

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Researchers at UCLA studied 4. Igneous rocks best suited for radioisotopic dating because their primary minerals provide dates of crystallization from magma. Detrital sedimentary rocks are less useful because they are made of minerals derived from multiple parent sources with potentially many dates.

However, scientists can use igneous events to date sedimentary sequences. For example, if sedimentary strata are between a lava Liquid rock on the surface of the Earth. Another example would be a 65 million year old volcanic dike A narrow igneous intrusion that cuts through existing rock, not along bedding planes. This provides an upper limit age on the sedimentary strataso this strata would be older than 65 million years.

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Primary sedimentary minerals containing radioactive isotopes like 40 K, has provided dates for important geologic events. Thermoluminescence, a type of luminescence dating Luminescence aka Thermoluminescence : Radioisotopic dating is not the only way scientists determine numeric ages.

Luminescence dating measures the time elapsed since some silicate mineralssuch as coarse- sediments of silicate mineralswere last exposed to light or heat at the surface of Earth. All buried sediments are exposed to radiation from normal background radiation from the decay process described above. Some of these electrons get trapped in the crystal lattice of silicate minerals like quartz. When exposed at the surface, ultraviolet radiation and heat from the Sun releases these electrons, but when the minerals are buried just a few inches below the surface, the electrons get trapped again.

Samples of coarse sediments collected just a few feet below the surface are analyzed by stimulating them with light in a lab. This stimulation releases the trapped electrons as a photon of light which is called luminescence. The amount luminescence released indicates how long the sediment has been buried.

Luminescence dating is only useful for dating sediments young sediment that are less than 1 million years old. In Utah, luminescence dating is used to determine when coarse-grained sediment layers were buried near a fault. This is one technique used to determine the recurrence interval of large earthquakes on faults like the Wasatch Fault that primarily cut coarse-grained material and lack buried organic soil A type of non-eroded sediment mixed with organic matter, used by plants.

Many essential elements for life, like nitrogen, are delivered to organisms via the soil. Apatite from Mexico.

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Fission Track: Fission track dating relies on damage to the crystal lattice produced when unstable U decays to the daughter product Th and releases an alpha particle.

These two decay products move in opposite directions from each other through the crystal lattice leaving a visible track of damage. This is common in uranium-bearing mineral grains such as apatite. The tracks are large and can be visually counted under an optical microscope.

The number of tracks correspond to the age of the grains. Fission track dating has also been used as a second clock to confirm dates obtained by other methods. They may be actual remains of body parts rareimpressions of soft body parts, cast Material filling in a cavity left by a organism that has dissolved away. The body parts of living organisms range from the hard bones and shells of animals, soft cellulose of plants, soft bodies of jellyfish, down to single cells of bacteria and algae.

Which body parts can be preserved? The best environment for preservation is the ocean, yet marine processes can dissolve hard parts and scavenging can reduce or eliminate remains. Thus, even under ideal conditions in the ocean, the likelihood of preservation is quite limited. For terrestrial life, the possibility of remains being buried and preserved is even more limited.

In other words, the fossil record is incomplete and records only a small percentage of life that existed. Although incomplete, fossil records are used for stratigraphic correlationusing the Principle of Faunal Successionand provide a method used for establishing the age of a formation on the Geologic Time Scale.

Trilobites had a hard exoskeleton and are often preserved by permineralization. Remnants or impressions of hard parts, such as a marine clam shell or dinosaur bone, are the most common types of fossils.

The original material has almost always been replaced with new minerals that preserve much of the shape of the original shell, bone, or cell. The common types of fossil preservation are actual preservationpermineralizationmold Organic material making a preserved impression in a rock. Actual preservation is a rare form of fossilization where the original materials or hard parts of the organism are preserved.

Preservation of soft-tissue is very rare since these organic materials easily disappear because of bacterial decay. Examples of actual preservation are unaltered biological materials like insects in amber or original minerals like mother-of-pearl on the interior of a shell. Another example is mammoth skin and hair preserved in post- glacial deposits in the Arctic regions. Rare mummification has left fragments of soft tissue, skin, and sometimes even blood vessels of dinosaurs, from which proteins have been isolated and evidence for DNA fragments have been discovered.

Mosquito preserved in amber. Permineralization in petrified wood.

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The shape of this cavity is an mold Organic material making a preserved impression in a rock. If the mold Organic material making a preserved impression in a rock. Sometimes internal cavities of organisms, such internal cast Material filling in a cavity left by a organism that has dissolved away. If the chemistry is right, and burial is rapid, mineral nodules form around soft structures preserving the three-dimensional detail.

This is called authigenic mineralization. These include some that establish a relative chronology in which occurrences can be placed in the correct sequence relative to one another or to some known succession of events. Radiometric dating and certain other approaches are used to provide absolute chronologies in terms of years before the present.

The two approaches are often complementary, as when a sequence of occurrences in one context can be correlated with an absolute chronlogy elsewhere. Local relationships on a single outcrop or archaeological site can often be interpreted to deduce the sequence in which the materials were assembled.

This then can be used to deduce the sequence of events and processes that took place or the history of that brief period of time as recorded in the rocks or soil. For example, the presence of recycled bricks at an archaeological site indicates the sequence in which the structures were built. Similarly, in geology, if distinctive granitic pebbles can be found in the sediment beside a similar granitic body, it can be inferred that the granite, after cooling, had been uplifted and eroded and therefore was not injected into the adjacent rock sequence.

Although with clever detective work many complex time sequences or relative ages can be deduced, the ability to show that objects at two separated sites were formed at the same time requires additional information. A coin, vessel, or other common artifact could link two archaeological sites, but the possibility of recycling would have to be considered.

It should be emphasized that linking sites together is essential if the nature of an ancient society is to be understood, as the information at a single location may be relatively insignificant by itself.

Similarly, in geologic studies, vast quantities of information from widely spaced outcrops have to be integrated. Some method of correlating rock units must be found. In the ideal case, the geologist will discover a single rock unit with a unique collection of easily observed attributes called a marker horizon that can be found at widely spaced localities.

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Any feature, including colour variations, textures, fossil content, mineralogyor any unusual combinations of these can be used. It is only by correlations that the conditions on different parts of Earth at any particular stage in its history can be deduced. In addition, because sediment deposition is not continuous and much rock material has been removed by erosionthe fossil record from many localities has to be integrated before a complete picture of the evolution of life on Earth can be assembled.

Using this established record, geologists have been able to piece together events over the past million years, or about one-eighth of Earth history, during which time useful fossils have been abundant.

The need to correlate over the rest of geologic time, to correlate nonfossiliferous units, and to calibrate the fossil time scale has led to the development of a specialized field that makes use of natural radioactive isotopes in order to calculate absolute ages.

The precise measure of geologic time has proven to be the essential tool for correlating the global tectonic processes that have taken place in the past. Precise isotopic ages are called absolute ages, since they date the timing of events not relative to each other but as the time elapsed between a rock-forming event and the present.

The same margin of error applies for younger fossiliferous rocks, making absolute dating comparable in precision to that attained using fossils. To achieve this precision, geochronologists have had to develop the ability to isolate certain high-quality minerals that can be shown to have remained closed to migration of the radioactive parent atoms they contain and the daughter atoms formed by radioactive decay over billions of years of geologic time.

In addition, they have had to develop special techniques with which to dissolve these highly refractory minerals without contaminating the small amount about one-billionth of a gram of contained lead and uranium on which the age must be calculated.



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