Are there problems with radiometric dating

Assumption 1: The Rate of Decay Has Always Been the Same
Contents:


  1. Scientist Realizes Important Flaw in Radioactive Dating
  2. Radiometric Dating is Accurate
  3. Apologetics Press - Problems with Radiometric Dating
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The element that breaks down in this case, uranium is called the parent element. The element that is formed in this case, lead is called the daughter element. How long is this supposed to take? In the case of uranium and lead, the half-life is supposed to be 4. A half-life is simply the time that it takes for half of a sample of the parent element to turn into the daughter element.

For instance, if you have 50 ounces of uranium, then in 4. Therefore, if you know the rate of decay for an element, once you measure the amount of the two elements in the rock sample, simple math should give you an age for the rock. However, there are certain things that scientists must assume in order for radiometric dating to work. The first major assumption built into radiometric dating is the idea that the parent elements have decayed in the past at the exact same rate as they are decaying today. This idea has problems, because no one alive today knows what kind of environment existed in the distant past.

We cannot claim to know how fast elements decayed in the past, because we have very little evidence to prove this idea which is why it is an assumption. Suppose you come upon a man who is cutting down trees in a forest. You watch him for an entire hour, and he cuts down only one tree.

Then you count the number of trees he has cut—31 in all. If you assume that he has been cutting trees down at the same rate, then you calculate that he has chopped for 31 hours. However, when you talk to the man, he tells you that, earlier in the day when his ax was sharp and his stomach was full, he was cutting down five trees an hour; only in the last hour had he slacked off. With this information, you now understand that he worked for only seven hours, not Oftentimes the rate of cooling occurs rapidly enough to prohibit the complete transformation of calcium-rich feldspar into sodium-rich feldspar.

In these instances, the feldspar crystals will have calcium-rich interiors surrounded by zones that are progressively richer in sodium. During the last stage of crystallization, after most of the magma has solidified, the remaining melt will form the minerals quartz, muscovite mica, and potassium feldspar. Although these minerals crystallize in the order shown, this sequence is not a true reaction series.

Bowen demonstrated that minerals crystallize from magma in a systematic fashion. But how does Bowen's reaction series account for the great diversity of igneous rocks? It appears that at one or more stages in the crystallization process, a separation of the solid and liquid components of a magma frequently occurs. This can happen, for example, if the earlier formed minerals are heavier than the liquid portion and settle to the bottom of the magma chamber as shown in Figure 3.

This settling is thought to occur frequently with the dark silicates, such as olivine. When the remaining melt crystallizes, either in place or in a new location if it migrates out of the chamber, it will form a rock with a chemical composition much different from the original magma Figure 3. In many instances the melt which has migrated from the initial magma chamber will undergo further segregation. As crystallization progresses in the " new" magma, the solid particles may accumulate into rocklike masses surrounded by pockets of the still molten material.

It is very likely that some of this melt will be squeezed from the mixture into the cracks which develop in the surrounding rock. This process will generate an igneous rock of yet another composition. The process involving the segregation of minerals by differential crystallization an separation is called fractional crystallization. At any stage in the crystallization process the melt might be separated from the solid portion of the magma. Consequently, fractional crystallization can produce igneous rocks having a wide range of compositions.

Bowen successfully demonstrated that through fractional crystallization one magma can generate several different igneous rocks. However, more recent work has indicated that this process cannot account for the relative quantities of the various rock types known to exist. Although more than one rock type can be generated from a single magma, apparently other mechanisms also exist to generate magmas of quite varied chemical compositions.

We will examine some of these mechanisms at the end of the next chapter. Separation of minerals by fractional crystallization. Illustration of how the earliest formed minerals can be separated from a magma by settling. The remaining melt could migrate to a number of different locations and, upon further crystallization, generate rocks having a composition much different from the parent magma.

Faure discusses fractional crystallization relating to U and Th in his book p. These values may be taken as an indication of the very low abundance of these elements in the mantle and crust of the Earth. In the course of partial melting and fractional crystallization of magma, U and Th are concentrated in the liquid phase and become incorporated into the more silica-rich products.

For that reason, igneous rocks of granitic composition are strongly enriched in U and Th compared to rocks of basaltic or ultramafic composition. Progressive geochemical differentiation of the upper mantle of the Earth has resulted in the concentration of U and Th into the rocks of the continental crust compared to those of the upper mantle. The concentration of Pb is usually so much higher than U, that a 2- to 3-fold increase of U doesn't change the percent composition much e.

Finally, we have a third quotation from Elaine G. Kennedy in Geoscience Reports, Spring , No. Contamination and fractionation issues are frankly acknowledged by the geologic community. If this occurs, initial volcanic eruptions would have a preponderance of daughter products relative to the parent isotopes. Such a distribution would give the appearance of age. As the magma chamber is depleted in daughter products, subsequent lava flows and ash beds would have younger dates. Such a scenario does not answer all of the questions or solve all of the problems that radiometric dating poses for those who believe the Genesis account of Creation and the Flood.

It does suggest at least one aspect of the problem that could be researched more thoroughly. So we have two kinds of processes taking place. There are those processes taking place when lava solidifies and various minerals crystallize out at different times. There are also processes taking place within a magma chamber that can cause differences in the composition of the magma from the top to the bottom of the chamber, since one might expect the temperature at the top to be cooler.

Both kinds of processes can influence radiometric dates. In addition, the magma chamber would be expected to be cooler all around its borders, both at the top and the bottom as well as in the horizontal extremities, and these effects must also be taken into account. For example, heavier substances will tend to sink to the bottom of a magma chamber.

Also, substances with a higher melting point will tend to crystallize out at the top of a magma chamber and fall, since it will be cooler at the top. These substances will then fall to the lower portion of the magma chamber, where it is hotter, and remelt. This will make the composition of the magma different at the top and bottom of the chamber. This could influence radiometric dates.

This mechanism was suggested by Jon Covey and others. The solubility of various substances in the magma also could be a function of temperature, and have an influence on the composition of the magma at the top and bottom of the magma chamber. Finally, minerals that crystallize at the top of the chamber and fall may tend to incorporate other substances, and so these other substances will also tend to have a change in concentration from the top to the bottom of the magma chamber.

There are quite a number of mechanisms in operation in a magma chamber. I count at least three so far -- sorting by density, sorting by melting point, and sorting by how easily something is incorporated into minerals that form at the top of a magma chamber.

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Then you have to remember that sometimes one has repeated melting and solidification, introducing more complications. There is also a fourth mechanism -- differences in solubilities. How anyone can keep track of this all is a mystery to me, especially with the difficulties encountered in exploring magma chambers. These will be definite factors that will change relative concentrations of parent and daughter isotopes in some way, and call into question the reliability of radiometric dating. In fact, I think this is a very telling argument against radiometric dating.

Another possibility to keep in mind is that lead becomes gaseous at low temperatures, and would be gaseous in magma if it were not for the extreme pressures deep in the earth. It also becomes very mobile when hot. These processes could influence the distribution of lead in magma chambers.

Scientist Realizes Important Flaw in Radioactive Dating

Let me suggest how these processes could influence uranium-lead and thorium-lead dates: The following is a quote from The Earth: The magnesium and iron rich minerals come from the mantle subducted oceanic plates , while granite comes from continental sediments crustal rock. The mantle part solidifies first, and is rich in magnesium, iron, and calcium.

So it is reasonable to expect that initially, the magma is rich in iron, magnesium, and calcium and poor in uranium, thorium, sodium, and potassium. Later on the magma is poor in iron, magnesium, and calcium and rich in uranium, thorium, sodium, and potassium. It doesn't say which class lead is in. But lead is a metal, and to me it looks more likely that lead would concentrate along with the iron.

If this is so, the magma would initially be poor in thorium and uranium and rich in lead, and as it cooled it would become rich in thorium and uranium and poor in lead. Thus its radiometric age would tend to decrease rapidly with time, and lava emitted later would tend to look younger. Another point is that of time. Suppose that the uranium does come to the top by whatever reason. Perhaps magma that is uranium rich tends to be lighter than other magma. Or maybe the uranium poor rocks crystallize out first and the remaining magma is enriched in uranium.


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Would this cause trouble for our explanation? It depends how fast it happened. Some information from the book Uranium Geochemistry, Mineralogy, Geology provided by Jon Covey gives us evidence that fractionation processes are making radiometric dates much, much too old. The half life of U is 4. Thus radium is decaying 3 million times as fast as U At equilibrium, which should be attained in , years for this decay series, we should expect to have 3 million times as much U as radium to equalize the amount of daughter produced.

Cortini says geologists discovered that ten times more Ra than the equilibrium value was present in rocks from Vesuvius. They found similar excess radium at Mount St.

Radiometric Dating is Accurate

Helens, Vulcanello, and Lipari and other volcanic sites. The only place where radioactive equilibrium of the U series exists in zero age lavas is in Hawiian rocks. We need to consider the implications of this for radiometric dating. How is this excess of radium being produced? This radium cannot be the result of decay of uranium, since there is far too much of it. Either it is the result of an unknown decay process, or it is the result of fractionation which is greatly increasing the concentration of radium or greatly decreasing the concentration of uranium.

Thus only a small fraction of the radium present in the lava at most 10 percent is the result of decay of the uranium in the lava. This is interesting because both radium and lead are daughter products of uranium. If similar fractionation processes are operating for lead, this would mean that only a small fraction of the lead is the result of decay from the parent uranium, implying that the U-Pb radiometric dates are much, much too old.

Cortini, in an article appearing in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research also suggests this possibility. By analogy with the behaviour of Ra, Th and U it can be suggested that Pb, owing to its large mobility, was also fed to the magma by fluids. This can and must be tested. The open-system behaviour of Pb, if true, would have dramatic consequences In fact, U and Th both have isotopes of radium in their decay chains with half lives of a week or two, and 6.

Any process that is concentrating one isotope of radium will probably concentrate the others as well and invalidate these dating methods, too. Radium has a low melting point degrees K which may account for its concentration at the top of magma chambers. What radiometric dating needs to do to show its reliability is to demonstrate that no such fractionation could take place.

Can this be done? With so many unknowns I don't think so. How Uranium and Thorium are preferentially incorporated in various minerals I now give evidences that uranium and thorium are incorporated into some minerals more than others. 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. This can happen because different minerals incorporate different amounts of uranium and thorium, and these different minerals also have different melting points and different densities. If minerals that crystallize at the top of a magma chamber and fall, tend to incorporate a lot of uranium, this will tend to deplete uranium at the top of the magma chamber, and make the magma there look older.

Concerning the distribution of parent and daughter isotopes in various substances, there are appreciable differences. Faure shows that in granite U is 4. Some process is causing the differences in the ratios of these magmatic rocks. Depending on their oxidation state, according to Faure, uranium minerals can be very soluble in water while thorium compounds are, generally, very insoluble. These elements also show preferences for the minerals in which they are incorporated, so that they will tend to be "dissolved" in certain mineral "solutions" preferentially to one another.

More U is found in carbonate rocks, while Th has a very strong preference for granites in comparison.

Apologetics Press - Problems with Radiometric Dating

I saw a reference that uranium reacts strongly, and is never found pure in nature. So the question is what the melting points of its oxides or salts would be, I suppose. I also saw a statement that uranium is abundant in the crust, but never found in high concentrations. To me this indicates a high melting point for its minerals, as those with a low melting point might be expected to concentrate in the magma remaining after others crystallized out. Such a high melting point would imply fractionation in the magma. Thorium is close to uranium in the periodic table, so it may have similar properties, and similar remarks may apply to it.

It turns out that uranium in magma is typically found in the form of uranium dioxide, with a melting point of degrees centrigrade. 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.

Lead could easily reside in impurities and imperfections in the crystal structure. Also, John Woodmorappe's paper has some examples of anomalies involving zircons. 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 uranium , uranium , and 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. 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. Tarbuck and Lutgens carefully explain the process of fractional crystallization in The Earth: An Introduction to Physical Geology. What is more alarming is that the Google searches for "carbon 14 RATE", "carbon 14 diamond", and "carbon 14 coal" yield hits predominantly in woowoo fundamentalist sites, and no hits on the first 15 pages 10 links per page to anything at talkorigins.

I eventually managed to find an excellent article see the top of this post using pandasthumb. That led me to this non-technical article,. I think the news item on their front page refers to a much older event. What happened, from what I recall, is that someone hacked TalkOrigins and managed to get the site to display hidden spam links at the bottom of pages, making Google think it was a spam site and thus getting it removed from Google. They fixed that issue a while ago.

PZ Myers says they've had some technical issues. I am working my way through Kirk Bertsche's 9 page essay on the subject. Thanks DH for this link. This article does a good job at explaining the technical complexities of measuring the very small amounts of C14 present in these ancient samples and why non-zero amounts are measured. I'm a complete non-expert in this field of radiometric dating, but it strikes me reading this how contamination by modern carbon introduced during sample preparation seems to be a severe issue.

I'm wonder whether they've extracted samples under an inert atmosphere and then used laser ablation to ionize samples in their mass spectrometers? I'm probably teaching grandmother to suck eggs, as the old saying goes. Getting back to my OP - I feel that some definitive work needs to be done in this area. It's easy to see that the sceptical creationist is simply going to see the scientific response as making excuses for the data instead of holding up some hard data that either explains or explodes the anomaly.

Another thing I've heard from creationists is that fossils made by soaking samples in tar pits appear to be extremely old. Of course, the problem is that this process results in contamination with old carbon, making the sample appear older. In the case of old samples with almost no C, even the tiniest bit of contamination would make the sample appear far younger. Always remember that C dating is not a magical process; it is a measure of C and the age interpretation depends on a few assumptions. It's also worth noting that C is only useful for a bit more than , years.

The vast majority of fossils aren't dated using C at all, but other radioisotopes. Science has several very reasonable explanations for levels of modern carbon in very old samples.

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Although this satisfies the scientist, who for all sorts of other reasons quite reasonably assumes that these samples are truly old, it leaves enormous scope for the creationists to reinforce their followers' faith that the earth is young. I still feel that some definitive experiments in this area would be useful to test the various rational explanations for the c14 anomaly. I can see though that science has problems taking on creationists because of the perceived risk of lending credibility to their ideas.

Bit of a dilemma there. Also as soon as one creationist idea is exploded, they just move on to another area where uncertainty in the science offers them the opportunity to mislead. That begs the question that an anomaly even exists. What does exist are limits to the applicability of 14 C dating techniques. Several of the test results touted by creationists were definitive experiments to assess those limitations.

There is no arguing with young earth creationists. They are immune to logic and evidence. Broadly speaking I agree with you. But, reading the experts' explanations of the "anomaly" read to me, as a non-expert in this field, like perfectly reasonable explanations as long as you accept the "old earth" explanation. If you don't, such dismissive arguments as 'the extra C14 could be due to uranium decay' leave enough wriggle room uncertainty for the creationist to thrive in. You're right though, I'm probably being naive in thnking they will be convinced.