Absolute and relative dating of rock
Absolute dating places events or rocks at a specific time.
If a geologist claims to be younger than his or her co-worker, that is a relative age.
Using this established record, geologists have been able to piece together events over the past 635 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 isotopes has been improved to the point that for rocks 3 billion years old geologically meaningful errors of less than ±1 million years can be obtained.
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.
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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 environments.
To date past events, processes, formations, and fossil organisms, geologists employ a variety of techniques.
Without absolute ages, investigators could only determine which fossil organisms lived at the same time and the relative order of their appearance in the correlated sedimentary rock record.
Unlike ages derived from fossils, which occur only in sedimentary rocks, absolute ages are obtained from minerals that grow as liquid rock bodies cool at or below the surface.