Process of relative dating
Unlike people, you can’t really guess the age of a rock from looking at it.Yet, you’ve heard the news: Earth is 4.6 billion years old. That corn cob found in an ancient Native American fire pit is 1,000 years old. Geologic age dating—assigning an age to materials—is an entire discipline of its own.Here is an easy-to understand analogy for your students: relative age dating is like saying that your grandfather is older than you.Absolute age dating is like saying you are 15 years old and your grandfather is 77 years old.It’s based either on fossils which are recognized to represent a particular interval of time, or on radioactive decay of specific isotopes. Based on the Rule of Superposition, certain organisms clearly lived before others, during certain geologic times.After all, a dinosaur wouldn’t be caught dead next to a trilobite.Chart of a few different isotope half lifes: In reality, geologists tend to mix and match relative and absolute age dates to piece together a geologic history.
This method works because some unstable (radioactive) isotopes of some elements decay at a known rate into daughter products. Half-life simply means the amount of time it takes for half of a remaining particular isotope to decay to a daughter product. Good discussion from the US Geological Survey: geochronolgists just measure the ratio of the remaining parent atom to the amount of daughter and voila, they know how long the molecule has been hanging out decaying. So to date those, geologists look for layers like volcanic ash that might be sandwiched between the sedimentary layers, and that tend to have radioactive elements.
Relative age dating also means paying attention to crosscutting relationships.
Say for example that a volcanic dike, or a fault, cuts across several sedimentary layers, or maybe through another volcanic rock type.
Development of the geologic time scale and dating of formations and rocks relies upon two fundamentally different ways of telling time: relative and absolute.
Relative dating places events or rocks in their chronologic sequence or order of occurrence.