Why is it difficult to date sedimentary rocks using radiometric dating techniques?

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Don Mac Share
Mar 23, 2016


Because the elements used for dating need to be re-set by volcanism.


Radioactive elements decay at a certain constant rate and this is the basis of radiometric dating. But, the decay elements need to be set, much like you would re-set a stop watch for a runner, to ensure an accurate measurement. When minerals get subducted into the Earth and come back as volcanic magmas or ash, this essential re-sets the radiometric clock back to zero and therefore a reliable age date is possible.

Sedimentary rocks may have radioactive elements in them, but they have been re-worked from other rocks, so essentially, there radiometric clock has not been re-set back to zero. However, sedimentary rocks can be age dated if a volcanic ash horizon or a diabase sill or dyke can be found within the sequence.

For example, if you find a dinosaur bone in a sedimentary sequence and you find an ash layer 10 meter above the bone and another ash layer 20 meters below it, you can determine the age of the two ash layers. You can then infer that the dino must have lived some time between these two age dates.

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