What radioactive decay is used in carbon dating
This technique has become more widely used since the late 1950s.
Its great advantage is that most rocks contain potassium, usually locked up in feldspars, clays and amphiboles.
For an element to be useful for geochronology (measuring geological time), the isotope must be reasonably abundant and produce daughter isotopes at a good rate.
Either a whole rock or a single mineral grain can be dated.
Another way of expressing this is the half-life period (given the symbol T).
The half-life is the time it takes for half of the parent atoms to decay.
The rate of decay (given the symbol λ) is the fraction of the 'parent' atoms that decay in unit time.
This is a common dating method mainly used by archaeologists, as it can only date geologically recent organic materials, usually charcoal, but also bone and antlers.This technique is used on ferromagnesian (iron/magnesium-containing) minerals such as micas and amphiboles or on limestones which also contain abundant strontium.However, both Rb and Sr easily follow fluids that move through rocks or escape during some types of metamorphism. The dual decay of potassium (K) to 40Ar (argon) and 40Ca (calcium) was worked out between 19.The amount of 14C present and the known rate of decay of 14C and the equilibrium value gives the length of time elapsed since the death of the organism.This method faces problems because the cosmic ray flux has changed over time, but a calibration factor is applied to take this into account.Some techniques place the sample in a nuclear reactor first to excite the isotopes present, then measure these isotopes using a mass spectrometer (such as in the argon-argon scheme).Others place mineral grains under a special microscope, firing a laser beam at the grains which ionises the mineral and releases the isotopes.This technique uses the same minerals and rocks as for K-Ar dating but restricts measurements to the argon isotopic system which is not so affected by metamorphic and alteration events. The decay of 147Sm to 143Nd for dating rocks began in the mid-1970s and was widespread by the early 1980s.It is useful for dating very old igneous and metamorphic rocks and also meteorites and other cosmic fragments.However, potassium is very mobile during metamorphism and alteration, and so this technique is not used much for old rocks, but is useful for rocks of the Mesozoic and Cenozoic Eras, particularly unaltered igneous rocks.Argon-Argon dating (39Ar-40Ar) This technique developed in the late 1960s but came into vogue in the early 1980s, through step-wise release of the isotopes.