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Posted by: JoJorg Posted on: 25.04.2020

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Here I want to concentrate on another source of error, namely, processes that take place within magma chambers. To me it has been a real eye opener to see all the processes that are taking place and their potential influence on radiometric dating. Radiometric dating is largely done on rock that has formed from solidified lava. Lava properly called magma before it erupts fills large underground chambers called magma chambers. Most people are not aware of the many processes that take place in lava before it erupts and as it solidifies, processes that can have a tremendous influence on daughter to parent ratios. Such processes can cause the daughter product to be enriched relative to the parent, which would make the rock look older, or cause the parent to be enriched relative to the daughter, which would make the rock look younger.

This is termed the lead-lead dating method. Clair Cameron Pattersonan American geochemist who pioneered studies of uranium-lead radiometric dating methods, used it to obtain one of the earliest estimates of the age of the Earth. Although zircon ZrSiO 4 is most commonly used, other minerals such as monazite see: monazite geochronologytitaniteand baddeleyite can also be used. These types of minerals often produce lower precision ages than igneous and metamorphic minerals traditionally used for age dating, but are more common in the geologic record.

During the alpha decay steps, the zircon crystal experiences radiation damage, associated with each alpha decay. This damage is most concentrated around the parent isotope U and Thexpelling the daughter isotope Pb from its original position in the zircon lattice.

In areas with a high concentration of the parent isotope, damage to the crystal lattice is quite extensive, and will often interconnect to form a network of radiation damaged areas. These fission tracks act as conduits deep within the crystal, providing a method of transport to facilitate the leaching of lead isotopes from the zircon crystal. Under conditions where no lead loss or gain from the outside environment has occurred, the age of the zircon can be calculated by assuming exponential decay of Uranium.

That is. These are said to yield concordant ages. Loss leakage of lead from the sample will result in a discrepancy in the ages determined by each decay scheme. This effect is referred to as discordance and is demonstrated in Figure 1. If a series of zircon samples has lost different amounts of lead, the samples generate a discordant line. The upper intercept of the concordia and the discordia line will reflect the original age of formation, while the lower intercept will reflect the age of the event that led to open system behavior and therefore the lead loss; although there has been some disagreement regarding the meaning of the lower intercept ages.

Zircon is very chemically inert and resistant to mechanical weathering-a mixed blessing for geochronologists, as zones or even whole crystals can survive melting of their parent rock with their original uranium-lead age intact.

Zircon crystals with prolonged and complex histories can thus contain zones of dramatically different ages usually, with the oldest and youngest zones forming the core and rim, respectively, of the crystaland thus are said to demonstrate inherited characteristics. Unraveling such complications which, depending on their maximum lead-retention temperature, can also exist within other minerals generally requires in situ micro-beam analysis via, say, ion microprobe SIMS or laser ICP-MS.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. So when a mineral grain forms specifically, when it first cools below its trapping temperatureit effectively sets the uranium-lead "clock" to zero. Lead atoms created by uranium decay are trapped in the crystal and build up in concentration with time. If nothing disturbs the grain to release any of this radiogenic lead, dating it is straightforward in concept. First, its chemical structure likes uranium and hates lead.

Uranium easily substitutes for zirconium while lead is strongly excluded. This means the clock is truly set at zero when zircon forms. Its clock is not easily disturbed by geologic events-not erosion or consolidation into sedimentary rocksnot even moderate metamorphism. Third, zircon is widespread in igneous rocks as a primary mineral.

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This makes it especially valuable for dating these rocks, which have no fossils to indicate their age. Fourth, zircon is physically tough and easily separated from crushed rock samples because of its high density. Other minerals sometimes used for uranium-lead dating include monazite, titanite and two other zirconium minerals, baddeleyite and zirconolite.

However, zircon is so overwhelming a favorite that geologists often just refer to "zircon dating. But even the best geologic methods are imperfect.

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Dating a rock involves uranium-lead measurements on many zirconsthen assessing the quality of the data. This high melting point suggests that uranium would crystallize and fall to the bottom of magma chambers. Geologists are aware of the problem of initial concentration of daughter elements, and attempt to take it into account.

U-Pb dating attempts to get around the lack of information about initial daughter concentrations by the choice of minerals that are dated. For example, zircons are thought to accept little lead but much uranium. Thus geologists assume that the lead in zircons resulted from radioactive decay. But I don't know how they can be sure how much lead zircons accept, and even they admit that zircons accept some lead.

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Lead could easily reside in impurities and imperfections in the crystal structure. Also, John Woodmorappe's paper has some examples of anomalies involving zircons.

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It is known that the crystal structure of zircons does not accept much lead. However, it is unrealistic to expect a pure crystal to form in nature. Perfect crystals are very rare. In reality, I would expect that crystal growth would be blocked locally by various things, possibly particles in the way. Then the surrounding crystal surface would continue to grow and close up the gap, incorporating a tiny amount of magma. I even read something about geologists trying to choose crystals without impurities by visual examination when doing radiometric dating.

Thus we can assume that zircons would incorporate some lead in their impurities, potentially invalidating uranium-lead dates obtained from zircons. Chemical fractionation, as we have seen, calls radiometric dates into question.

But this cannot explain the distribution of lead isotopes. There are actually several isotopes of lead that are produced by different parent substances uraniumuraniumand thorium. One would not expect there to be much difference in the concentration of lead isotopes due to fractionation, since isotopes have properties that are very similar. So one could argue that any variations in Pb ratios would have to result from radioactive decay.

However, the composition of lead isotopes between magma chambers could still differ, and lead could be incorporated into lava as it traveled to the surface from surrounding materials. I also recall reading that geologists assume the initial Pb isotope ratios vary from place to place anyway. Later we will see that mixing of two kinds of magma, with different proportions of lead isotopes, could also lead to differences in concentrations.

Mechanism of uranium crystallization and falling through the magma We now consider in more detail the process of fractionation that can cause uranium to be depleted at the top of magma chambers. Uranium and thorium have high melting points and as magma cools, these elements crystallize out of solution and fall to the magma chamber's depths and remelt. This process is known as fractional crystallization.

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What this does is deplete the upper parts of the chamber of uranium and thorium, leaving the radiogenic lead. As this material leaves, that which is first out will be high in lead and low in parent isotopes. This will date oldest. Magma escaping later will date younger because it is enriched in U and Th. There will be a concordance or agreement in dates obtained by these seemingly very different dating methods.

This mechanism was suggested by Jon Covey. They show clear drawings of crystallized minerals falling through the magma and explain that the crystallized minerals do indeed fall through the magma chamber. Further, most minerals of uranium and thorium are denser than other minerals, especially when those minerals are in the liquid phase. Crystalline solids tend to be denser than liquids from which they came. But the degree to which they are incorporated in other minerals with high melting points might have a greater influence, since the concentrations of uranium and thorium are so low.

Now another issue is simply the atomic weight of uranium and thorium, which is high. Any compound containing them is also likely to be heavy and sink to the bottom relative to others, even in a liquid form.

If there is significant convection in the magma, this would be minimized, however.

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At any rate, there will be some effects of this nature that will produce some kinds of changes in concentration of uranium and thorium relative to lead from the top to the bottom of a magma chamber. Some of the patterns that are produced may appear to give valid radiometric dates.

Others may not. The latter may be explained away due to various mechanisms. Let us consider processes that could cause uranium and thorium to be incorporated into minerals with a high melting point.

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I read that zircons absorb uranium, but not much lead. Thus they are used for U-Pb dating. But many minerals take in a lot of uranium. It is also known that uranium is highly reactive. To me this suggests that it is eager to give up its 2 outer electrons.

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This would tend to produce compounds with a high dipole moment, with a positive charge on uranium and a negative charge on the other elements. This would in turn tend to produce a high melting point, since the atoms would attract one another electrostatically. I'm guessing a little bit here. There are a number of uranium compounds with different melting points, and in general it seems that the ones with the highest melting points are more stable.

I would suppose that in magma, due to reactions, most of the uranium would end up in the most stable compounds with the highest melting points. These would also tend to have high dipole moments. Now, this would also help the uranium to be incorporated into other minerals. The electric charge distribution would create an attraction between the uranium compound and a crystallizing mineral, enabling uranium to be incorporated.

But this would be less so for lead, which reacts less strongly, and probably is not incorporated so easily into minerals. So in the minerals crystallizing at the top of the magma, uranium would be taken in more than lead. These minerals would then fall to the bottom of the magma chamber and thus uranium at the top would be depleted.

It doesn't matter if these minerals are relatively lighter than others. The point is that they are heavier than the magma.

Two kinds of magma and implications for radiometric dating It turns out that magma has two sources, ocean plates and material from the continents crustal rock.

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This fact has profound implications for radiometric dating. Mantle material is very low in uranium and thorium, having only 0. The source of magma for volcanic activity is subducted oceanic plates.

Subduction means that these plates are pushed under the continents by motions of the earth's crust. While oceanic plates are basaltic mafic originating from the mid-oceanic ridges due to partial melting of mantle rock, the material that is magma is a combination of oceanic plate material and continental sediments.

Subducted oceanic plates begin to melt when they reach depths of about kilometers See Tarbuck, The Earth, p. In other words, mantle is not the direct source of magma. Further, Faure explains that uraninite UO sub2 is a component of igneous rocks Faure, p. Uraninite is also known as pitchblende. According to plate tectonic theory, continental crust overrides oceanic crust when these plates collide because the continental crust is less dense than the ocean floor.

As the ocean floor sinks, it encounters increasing pressures and temperatures within the crust. Ultimately, the pressures and temperatures are so high that the rocks in the subducted oceanic crust melt. Once the rocks melt, a plume of molten material begins to rise in the crust. As the plume rises it melts and incorporates other crustal rocks. This rising body of magma is an open system with respect to the surrounding crustal rocks.

Volatiles e. It is possible that these physical processes have an impact on the determined radiometric age of the rock as it cools and crystallizes.

Time is not a direct measurement. The actual data are the ratios of parent and daughter isotopes present in the sample.

Oct 01,   The reliability of radiometric dating is subject to three uteknoderas.comovable assumptions that every geologist must make when using the radioactive "clock". Radioactive rocks offer a similar "clock." Radioactive atoms, such as uranium (the parent isotopes), decay into stable atoms, such as lead (the daughter isotopes), at a measurable rate.

Time is one of the values that can be determined from the slope of the line representing the distribution of the isotopes. Isotope distributions are determined by the chemical and physical factors governing a given magma chamber.

Rhyolites in Yellowstone N. Most genetic models for uranium deposits in sandstones in the U. Most of the uranium deposits in Wyoming are formed from uraniferous groundwaters derived from Precambrian granitic terranes.

Uranium in the major uranium deposits in the San Juan basin of New Mexico is believed to have been derived from silicic volcanic ash from Jurassic island arcs at the edge of the continent. From the above sources, we see that another factor influencing radiometric dates is the proportion of the magma that comes from subducted oceanic plates and the proportion that comes from crustal rock. Initially, we would expect most of it to come from subducted oceanic plates, which are uranium and thorium poor and maybe lead rich.

Later, more of the crustal rock would be incorporated by melting into the magma, and thus the magma would be richer in uranium and thorium and poorer in lead.

So this factor would also make the age appear to become younger with time. There are two kinds of magma, and the crustal material which is enriched in uranium also tends to be lighter.

For our topic on radiometric dating and fractional crystallization, there is nothing that would prevent uranium and thorium ores from crystallizing within the upper, lighter portion of the magma chamber and descending to the lower boundaries of the sialic portion. The same kind of fractional crystallization would be true of non-granitic melts.

I think we can build a strong case for fictitious ages in magmatic rocks as a result of fractional cystallization and geochemical processes. As we have seen, we cannot ignore geochemical effects while we consider geophysical effects.

Sialic granitic and mafic basaltic magma are separated from each other, with uranium and thorium chemically predestined to reside mainly in sialic magma and less in mafic rock. Here is yet another mechanism that can cause trouble for radiometric dating: As lava rises through the crust, it will heat up surrounding rock.

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Lead has a low melting point, so it will melt early and enter the magma. This will cause an apparent large age.

Uranium has a much higher melting point. It will enter later, probably due to melting of materials in which it is embedded. This will tend to lower the ages.

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Mechanisms that can create isochrons giving meaningless ages: Geologists attempt to estimate the initial concentration of daughter product by a clever device called an isochron.

Let me make some general comments about isochrons. The idea of isochrons is that one has a parent element, P, a daughter element, D, and another isotope, N, of the daughter that is not generated by decay. One would assume that initially, the concentration of N and D in different locations are proportional, since their chemical properties are very similar.

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Note that this assumption implies a thorough mixing and melting of the magma, which would also mix in the parent substances as well. Then we require some process to preferentially concentrate the parent substances in certain places.

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Radioactive decay would generate a concentration of D proportional to P. By taking enough measurements of the concentrations of P, D, and N, we can solve for c1 and c2, and from c1 we can determine the radiometric age of the sample. Otherwise, the system is degenerate. Thus we need to have an uneven distribution of D relative to N at the start. If these ratios are observed to obey such a linear relationship in a series of rocks, then an age can be computed from them.

The bigger c1 is, the older the rock is. That is, the more daughter product relative to parent product, the greater the age.

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Thus we have the same general situation as with simiple parent-to-daughter computations, more daughter product implies an older age. This is a very clever idea. However, there are some problems with it. First, in order to have a meaningful isochron, it is necessary to have an unusual chain of events. Initially, one has to have a uniform ratio of lead isotopes in the magma. Usually the concentration of uranium and thorium varies in different places in rock.

This will, over the assumed millions of years, produce uneven concentrations of lead isotopes. To even this out, one has to have a thorough mixing of the magma. Even this is problematical, unless the magma is very hot, and no external material enters. Now, after the magma is thoroughly mixed, the uranium and thorium will also be thoroughly mixed. What has to happen next to get an isochron is that the uranium or thorium has to concentrate relative to the lead isotopes, more in some places than others.

So this implies some kind of chemical fractionation. Then the system has to remain closed for a long time.

This chemical fractionation will most likely arise by some minerals incorporating more or less uranium or thorium relative to lead. Anyway, to me it seems unlikely that this chain of events would occur. Another problem with isochrons is that they can occur by mixing and other processes that result in isochrons yielding meaningless ages.

This is not necessarily a problem for radiometric dating, because it can be taken into account. But as we saw above, processes that take place within magma chambers involving crystallization could result in a different concentration of uranium and thorium at the top of a magma chamber than at the bottom. Uranium-thorium dating, also called thorium dating, uranium-series disequilibrium dating or uranium-series dating, is a radiometric dating technique established in the s which has been used since the s to determine the age of calcium carbonate materials such as speleothem or coral. Unlike other commonly used radiometric dating techniques such as rubidium-strontium or uranium. Lead atoms created by uranium decay are trapped in the crystal and build up in concentration with time. If nothing disturbs the grain to release any of this radiogenic lead, dating it is straightforward in concept. In a million-year-old rock, U is at its half-life and there will be an equal number of U and Pb atoms (the Pb/U ratio is 1).

Sometimes, according to Faure, what seems to be an isochron is actually a mixing line, a leftover from differentiation in the magma. Fractionation followed by mixing can create isochrons giving too old ages, without any fractionation of daughter isotopes taking place. To get an isochron with a false age, all you need is 1 too much daughter element, due to some kind of fractionation and 2 mixing of this with something else that fractionated differently. Since fractionation and mixing are so common, we should expect to find isochrons often.

How they correlate with the expected ages of their geologic period is an interesting question. There are at least some outstanding anomalies. Faure states that chemical fractionation produces "fictitious isochrons whose slopes have no time significance.

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As an example, he uses Pliocene to Recent lava flows and from lava flows in historical times to illustrate the problem. He says, these flows should have slopes approaching zero less than 1 million yearsbut they instead appear to be much older million years. Steve Austin has found lava rocks on the Uinkeret Plateau at Grand Canyon with fictitious isochrons dating at 1. Then a mixing of A and B will have the same fixed concentration of N everywhere, but the amount of D will be proportional to the amount of P.

This produces an isochron yielding the same age as sample A. This is a reasonable scenario, since N is a non-radiogenic isotope not produced by decay such as lea and it can be assumed to have similar concentrations in many magmas. Magma from the ocean floor has little U and little U and probably little lead byproducts lead and lead Magma from melted continental material probably has more of both U and U and lead and lead Thus we can get an isochron by mixing, that has the age of the younger-looking continental crust.

The age will not even depend on how much crust is incorporated, as long as it is non-zero. However, if the crust is enriched in lead or impoverished in uranium before the mixing, then the age of the isochron will be increased. If the reverse happens before mixing, the age of the isochron will be decreased.

Any process that enriches or impoverishes part of the magma in lead or uranium before such a mixing will have a similar effect.

So all of the scenarios given before can also yield spurious isochrons. I hope that this discussion will dispel the idea that there is something magical about isochrons that prevents spurious dates from being obtained by enrichment or depletion of parent or daughter elements as one would expect by common sense reasoning.

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