# potassium–argon dating

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The potassium-argon K-Ar isotopic dating method is especially useful for determining the age of lavas. Developed in the s, it was important in developing the theory of plate tectonics and in calibrating the geologic time scale. Potassium occurs in two stable isotopes 41 K and 39 K and one radioactive isotope 40 K. Potassium decays with a half-life of million years, meaning that half of the 40 K atoms are gone after that span of time. Its decay yields argon and calcium in a ratio of 11 to The K-Ar method works by counting these radiogenic 40 Ar atoms trapped inside minerals.

## Garniss Curtis (1919–2012): Dating Our Past

The potassium-argon K-Ar dating method is probably the most widely used technique for determining the absolute ages of crustal geologic events and processes. It is used to determine the ages of formation and thermal histories of potassium-bearing rocks and minerals of igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary origin, as well as extraterrestrial meteorites and lunar rocks.

The K-Ar method is among the oldest of the geochronological methods; it successfully produces reliable absolute ages of geologic materials. It has been developed and refined for over 50 years. In the conventional technique, which is described in this article, K and Ar concentrations are measured separately.

Dating rocks by these radioactive timekeepers is simple in theory, but the laboratory Potassium is found in most rock-forming minerals, the half-life of its and the amounts of potassium and argon isotopes can be measured.

In this article we shall examine the basis of the K-Ar dating method, how it works, and what can go wrong with it. It is possible to measure the proportion in which 40 K decays, and to say that about Potassium is chemically incorporated into common minerals, notably hornblende , biotite and potassium feldspar , which are component minerals of igneous rocks. Argon, on the other hand, is an inert gas; it cannot combine chemically with anything.

As a result under most circumstances we don’t expect to find much argon in igneous rocks just after they’ve formed. However, see the section below on the limitations of the method. This suggests an obvious method of dating igneous rocks. If we are right in thinking that there was no argon in the rock originally, then all the argon in it now must have been produced by the decay of 40 K. So all we’d have to do is measure the amount of 40 K and 40 Ar in the rock, and since we know the decay rate of 40 K, we can calculate how long ago the rock was formed.

From the equation describing radioactive decay , we can derive the following equation:. There are a number of problems with the method.

## Radioactive dating

Some updates to this article are now available. The sections on the branching ratio and dating meteorites need updating. Radiometric dating methods estimate the age of rocks using calculations based on the decay rates of radioactive elements such as uranium, strontium, and potassium.

Potassium-Argon dating has the advantage that the argon does not react The isotope 87Rb decays into the ground state of 87Sr with a half-life of x

Radiometric dating is a means of determining the “age” of a mineral specimen by determining the relative amounts present of certain radioactive elements. By “age” we mean the elapsed time from when the mineral specimen was formed. Radioactive elements “decay” that is, change into other elements by “half lives. The formula for the fraction remaining is one-half raised to the power given by the number of years divided by the half-life in other words raised to a power equal to the number of half-lives.

If we knew the fraction of a radioactive element still remaining in a mineral, it would be a simple matter to calculate its age by the formula. To determine the fraction still remaining, we must know both the amount now present and also the amount present when the mineral was formed. Contrary to creationist claims, it is possible to make that determination, as the following will explain:.

By way of background, all atoms of a given element have the same number of protons in the nucleus; however, the number of neutrons in the nucleus can vary. An atom with the same number of protons in the nucleus but a different number of neutrons is called an isotope. For example, uranium is an isotope of uranium, because it has 3 more neutrons in the nucleus. It has the same number of protons, otherwise it wouldn’t be uranium. The number of protons in the nucleus of an atom is called its atomic number.

## Moons of our Solar System

Potassium 40 is a radioisotope that can be found in trace amounts in natural potassium, is at the origin of more than half of the human body activity: undergoing between 4 and 5, decays every second for an 80kg man. Along with uranium and thorium, potassium contributes to the natural radioactivity of rocks and hence to the Earth heat. This isotope makes up one ten thousandth of the potassium found naturally.

what is the half life of K? billion years.

Potassium, an alkali metal, the Earth’s eighth most abundant element is common in many rocks and rock-forming minerals. The quantity of potassium in a rock or mineral is variable proportional to the amount of silica present. Therefore, mafic rocks and minerals often contain less potassium than an equal amount of silicic rock or mineral. Potassium can be mobilized into or out of a rock or mineral through alteration processes.

Due to the relatively heavy atomic weight of potassium, insignificant fractionation of the different potassium isotopes occurs. However, the 40 K isotope is radioactive and therefore will be reduced in quantity over time. But, for the purposes of the KAr dating system, the relative abundance of 40 K is so small and its half-life is so long that its ratios with the other Potassium isotopes are considered constant.

Argon, a noble gas, constitutes approximately 0. Because it is present within the atmosphere, every rock and mineral will have some quantity of Argon.

## Dating Rocks and Fossils Using Geologic Methods

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Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available. An unstable isotope decays over time at a rate that is characteristic of the particular isotope and is proportional to the number of surviving atoms.

Potassium-argon dating definition, a method for estimating the age of a of radioisotope 40 K that decays to the stable argon isotope 40 Ar with a half-life of.

On this Site. Common Types of Radiometric Dating. Carbon 14 Dating. As shown in the diagram above, the radioactive isotope carbon originates in the Earth’s atmosphere, is distributed among the living organisms on the surface, and ceases to replenish itself within an organism after that organism is dead. This means that lifeless organic matter is effectively a closed system, since no carbon enters the organism after death, an occurrence that would affect accurate measurements.

In radiometric dating, the decaying matter is called the parent isotope and the stable outcome of the decay is called the daughter product. Since the half-life of carbon is years, scientists can measure the age of a sample by determining how many times its original carbon amount has been cut in half since the death of the organism.

In all radiometric procedures there is a specific age range for when a technique can be used. If there is too much daughter product in this case nitrogen , age is hard to determine since the half-life does not make up a significant percentage of the material’s age.

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From an analytical perspective, K-Ar dating is a two step process. and convert a small fraction of the 39K to synthetic 39Ar, which has a half life of years.

Potassium-Argon dating has the advantage that the argon is an inert gas that does not react chemically and would not be expected to be included in the solidification of a rock, so any found inside a rock is very likely the result of radioactive decay of potassium. Since the argon will escape if the rock is melted, the dates obtained are to the last molten time for the rock. Since potassium is a constituent of many common minerals and occurs with a tiny fraction of radioactive potassium, it finds wide application in the dating of mineral deposits.

The feldspars are the most abundant minerals on the Earth, and potassium is a constituent of orthoclase , one common form of feldspar. Potassium occurs naturally as three isotopes. The radioactive potassium decays by two modes, by beta decay to 40 Ca and by electron capture to 40 Ar. There is also a tiny fraction of the decay to 40 Ar that occurs by positron emission.

The calcium pathway is not often used for dating since there is such an abundance of calcium in minerals, but there are some special cases where it is useful. The decay constant for the decay to 40 Ar is 5. Even though the decay of 40 K is somewhat complex with the decay to 40 Ca and three pathways to 40 Ar, Dalrymple and Lanphere point out that potassium-argon dating was being used to address significant geological problems by the mid ‘s. The energy-level diagram below is based on data accumulated by McDougall and Harrison.

For a radioactive decay which produces a single final product, the decay time can be calculated from the amounts of the parent and daughter product by. But the decay of potassium has multiple pathways , and detailed information about each of these pathways is necessary if potassiun-argon decay is to be used as a clock.

## Potassium-argon dating method

Potassium—argon dating , abbreviated K—Ar dating , is a radiometric dating method used in geochronology and archaeology. It is based on measurement of the product of the radioactive decay of an isotope of potassium K into argon Ar. Potassium is a common element found in many materials, such as micas , clay minerals , tephra , and evaporites.

In these materials, the decay product 40 Ar is able to escape the liquid molten rock, but starts to accumulate when the rock solidifies recrystallizes.

K decays with a half-life of ´ years to 40Ar which can be trapped in rocks. A potassium-argon method of dating, developed in , measures the amount of.

Most of the chronometric dating methods in use today are radiometric. That is to say, they are based on knowledge of the rate at which certain radioactive isotopes within dating samples decay or the rate of other cumulative changes in atoms resulting from radioactivity. Isotopes are specific forms of elements. The various isotopes of the same element differ in terms of atomic mass but have the same atomic number. In other words, they differ in the number of neutrons in their nuclei but have the same number of protons.

The spontaneous decay of radioactive elements occurs at different rates, depending on the specific isotope. These rates are stated in terms of half-lives.

## K–Ar dating facts for kids

Potassium-Argon Dating Potassium-Argon dating is the only viable technique for dating very old archaeological materials. Geologists have used this method to date rocks as much as 4 billion years old. It is based on the fact that some of the radioactive isotope of Potassium, Potassium K ,decays to the gas Argon as Argon Ar By comparing the proportion of K to Ar in a sample of volcanic rock, and knowing the decay rate of K, the date that the rock formed can be determined.

How Does the Reaction Work? Potassium K is one of the most abundant elements in the Earth’s crust 2.

where N0 and N are the initial and final numbers of the parent isotope, λ is the decay constant and T is the half-life. But the decay of potassium has multiple.

Around the time that On the Origin of Species was published, Lord Kelvin authoritatively stated that the Earth was between 20 and million years old, a range still quoted today by many who deny evolution. As it was difficult to conceive of life’s diversity arising via natural selection and speciation in so short a span, the apparent young Earth formed a serious barrier to the plausibility of evolution’s capacity to generate the tree of life. Huxley famously attacked Kelvin, saying that his calculations appeared accurate due to their internal precision, but were based on faulty underlying assumptions about the nature of physics [1].

Garniss Curtis was born in San Rafael, California in This was just 15 years after Ernest Rutherford, famous for discovering the nucleus of the atom and the existence of the phenomenon of radioactive half-life, walked into a dimly lit room to announce a new date for the age of the earth: 1. Lord Kelvin, the venerable alpha of Earth-age estimates, was in attendance. To my relief, Kelvin fell fast asleep, but as I came to the important point, I saw the old bird sit up, open an eye, and cock a baleful glance at me!

That prophetic utterance refers to what we are now considering tonight, radium! Although not Rutherford’s primary aim, his work contributed to our understanding of biological evolution by ushering in a sensible, realistic temporal framework for Earth’s billions of years that was more obviously compatible with Darwinian evolution than Kelvin’s young estimate was.

Garniss, who passed away on December 18, at age 93, would follow Rutherford in applying knowledge of radioactive decay to help settle questions about key dates in Earth’s history, but he would more actively target evolutionary questions. Unfortunately, Rutherford’s work with radium decay did little to provide actual ages for fossils due to the rarity of rocks dateable with the method and several factors that made it extremely imprecise.