Long distant internet dating
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.
Where this occurs at the edge of a continent, as along the west coast of North and South America, large mountain chains develop with abundant volcanoes and their subvolcanic equivalents.
These units, called igneous rock, or magma in their molten form, constitute major crustal additions.
In addition, they have had to develop special techniques with which to dissolve these highly refractory minerals without contaminating the small amount (about one-billionth of a gram) of contained lead and uranium on which the age must be calculated.
Since parent uranium atoms change into daughter atoms with time at a known rate, their relative abundance leads directly to the absolute age of the host mineral.
To date past events, processes, formations, and fossil organisms, geologists employ a variety of techniques.The stratigraphic column, a composite of these systems, was pieced together from exposures in different regions by application of the principles…Local relationships on a single outcrop or archaeological site can often be interpreted to deduce the sequence in which the materials were assembled.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.
The two approaches are often complementary, as when a sequence of occurrences in one context can be correlated with an absolute chronlogy elsewhere.