Carbon-14, or radiocarbon, is a naturally occurring radioactive isotope that forms when cosmic rays in the upper atmosphere strike nitrogen molecules, which then oxidize to become carbon dioxide.Green plants absorb the carbon dioxide, so the population of carbon-14 molecules is continually replenished until the plant dies.But the most accurate forms of absolute age dating are radiometric methods. Sedimentary rocks in particular are notoriously radioactive-free zones.
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.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.Carbon-14 has a half-life of 5,730 ± 40 years, meaning that every 5,700 years or so the object loses half its carbon-14.
Samples from the past 70,000 years made of wood, charcoal, peat, bone, antler or one of many other carbonates may be dated using this technique.In a way this field, called geochronology, is some of the purest detective work earth scientists do.There are two basic approaches: relative age dating, and absolute age dating.Like the other kind of dating, geologic dating isn’t always simple.Activity: Further discussion: Good overview as relates to the Grand Canyon: age dating: Use with this cross section of the Grand Canyon from the USGS’s teaching page: Canyon Have students reconstruct a simple geologic history — which are the oldest rocks shown? Are there any that you can’t tell using the Rule of Superposition?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.