Examples of relative dating in geology

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Geologists often need to know the age of material that they find.

They use absolute dating methods, sometimes called numerical dating, to give rocks an actual date, or date range, in number of years.

Because of the fairly fast decay rate of carbon-14, it can only be used on material up to about 60,000 years old.

This matching process is called correlation, which has been an important process in constructing geological timescales.

Each original isotope, called the parent, gradually decays to form a new isotope, called the daughter.

Each isotope is identified with what is called a ‘mass number’.

For example, the decay of potassium-40 to argon-40 is used to date rocks older than 20,000 years, and the decay of uranium-238 to lead-206 is used for rocks older than 1 million years.

Radiocarbon dating measures radioactive isotopes in once-living organic material instead of rock, using the decay of carbon-14 to nitrogen-14.

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