Radiometric dating proved wrong
Hayes has brought it up, we can take it into account, right? If the effects of diffusion can be taken into account, it will require an elaborate model that will most certainly require elaborate assumptions. Hayes suggests a couple of other approaches that might work, but its not clear how well. So what does this mean? If you believe the earth is very old, then most likely, all of the radioactive dates based on isochrons are probably overestimates.
How bad are the overestimates? Most likely, the effect will be dependent on the age. I would think that the older the sample, the larger the overestimate. As a young-earth creationist, I look at this issue in a different way. Certainly not enough to justify the incredibly unscientific extrapolation necessary in an old-earth framework.
This newly-pointed-out flaw in the isochron method is a stark reminder of that. A good isochron was supposed to be rock-solid evidence pun intended that the radioactive date is reliable. We now know that it is not. Wile, I was waiting for you to comment on this, because I wanted to ask if you think this problem can be extrapolated to other isotopes such as lead and argon. If so, it seems to be a pretty big deal. As I said, carbon dating is an exception, but most other modern radiometric dates are produced using an isochron. Are the samples we see in the RATE study, for example, just anomalies, existing on the ends of the bell curve, or are these indicative of an endemic misunderstanding of the process?
Are there any theories that could account for the accelerated decay rate or how the daughters could have gotten in to the samples? Thus, any significant amount of daughter product will produce a very old date. In my view, if two different dating schemes give significantly different answers, then either one of them is wrong or both of them are wrong. Scientists exclude what we think are anomalous data all the time. Unfortunately, that discarded data might be what gives us real insight.
Young-earth creationists have a hard time explaining the general results of long-lived isotopes and their daughter products being present. On the other side, old-earthers have a hard time explaining all the discordance. If radioactive dating is so reliable, why do different methods yield different results? Why are some of those differences really, really large?
As is often the case, there are problems on both sides. The side you end up coming down on often depends on which problems you are most comfortable trying to deal with. Physicists already theorize that dark matter would affect nuclear decay rates; what if the leftover energy went to the dark matter? The heat problem occurs everywhere there are radioactive isotopes, so throughout the crust and mantle of the earth, for example. The dark matter would have to be there in order to take the heat. You can think of dark matter here as a lot like the luminiferous ether: Since its interaction with normal matter is incredibly weak, it can very easily pass through the earth.
Not to mention that different models of dark matter would lead to different interactions. Are we able to calculate the mass of the earth from our knowledge of its contents, and not just the gravitational force we detect? I think if there were much dark matter in the earth, it would be noticeable. We also know the overall composition of the crust and mantle from samples.
Thus, the only real unknown is the composition of the core.
Scientist Realizes Important Flaw in Radioactive Dating
Using the mass and all those other measurements, we deduce that the core is mostly iron with some nickel. I fear it is more a matter of philosophy rather than hard science: The problem with that, is that, in the first case, there appear to be no transitional fossils when there should be millions , and to make the assumption previously herein stated, evolutionary conclusions are more akin to a combination of wishful thinking combined with a sympathetic magic mindset, than to observable examples.
Evolution is taught as established fact, and scientific enquiry is severely trammelled by those who prefer a status quo. Every fossil between organisms alive now and abiogenesis is a transitional fossil, Tony. There are also transitional fossils and organisms in the misguided definition of the word you are using. I admire your faith, Cromwell. Yet you state it as fact.
Then, you claim that all fossils are a transition between that unrealistic event and the life we see now. Thanks for writing an informative article. Error bars have their place, but you are correct in pointing out that they are often misunderstood not only by the general public, but by scientists who are not savvy in radiometric dating. I would have worded this sentence differently: I am not convinced that differential diffusion of isotopes will be all that significant. After all, fractionation of light elements, such as oxygen, provides us with all sorts of insights into geologic processes because the mass difference between O and O is rather significant, whereas the mass difference between Sr and Sr is not all that great, in terms of ratios.
The differences are even less significant for more massive isotopes such as in samarium-neodymium dating Nd and Nd If fractionation does turn out to be important for isochrons, one would expect that there would be a trend, with lighter nuclides e. Rb-Sr being more affected than heavier nuclides e. I am also wondering if Dr. Hays addressed how isotope fractionation would affect U-series concordia diagrams. As it is, there is a general correlation of dates obtained by radiometric dating from the top to the bottom of the geologic column.
Strongly discordant dates happen and young-Earth creationists focus on these , but roughly concordant dates are common; otherwise geologists would not trust the methods. It seems strange, if diffusion is a problem, that nuclides with very different masses are effected in the same way. Perhaps Earth is only 3. This would require similar diffusion rates in cold meteorites as in warm crustal zircons.
This would be very interesting, and would cause geologists to have to re-write many books, but the general story of geology would stand. This is because geologists do not believe Earth is billions of years old because of radiometric dating. Radiometric tools merely give us firm pegs to hang our signs on for the various eras, periods, and epochs of Earth history. Thanks for your comment, Kevin. I would have to disagree with your suggested change in wording, however.
While most definitely not all geochronologists do understand that there are false isochrons, that is never the way it is presented to students or the general public. This is unfortunate, of course, but it seems to be the norm when propaganda replaces science. I think what you are missing is the chemistry involved. When we are dealing with trace elements not substances that are part of the crystal lattice , differential diffusion can have a significant effect. It is also not clear that there would be a general trend like you suggest. Diffusion also depends on chemical issues.
When you are dealing with different elements, you are dealing with completely different diffusion scenarios. Hayes discussing uranium-series dating. Since concordia diagrams also involve isotope ratios, however, I suspect that this problem exists there as well. In fact, they might even be the majority. I have no doubt that those who want to believe in an old earth will be able figure out a way to keep the overall story of geology the same, regardless of how important this effect turns out to be, if that can even be determined to any reasonable precision. Yes, there are other issues at play as is the case with any over-arching scientific idea , but to her, radiometric dating is the most important reason she believes in an old earth.
I have no idea whether she is the norm or the exception, but she does exist. I was wondering how diffusion made any sense…. When I started my journey from old earth-evolutionism, it was much easier to see the flaws in evolutionary theory than those in the old age model.
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Thanks for your personal story, SJ. The mantle part solidifies first, and is rich in magnesium, iron, and calcium. So it is reasonable to expect that initially, the magma is rich in iron, magnesium, and calcium and poor in uranium, thorium, sodium, and potassium. Later on the magma is poor in iron, magnesium, and calcium and rich in uranium, thorium, sodium, and potassium.
It doesn't say which class lead is in. But lead is a metal, and to me it looks more likely that lead would concentrate along with the iron. If this is so, the magma would initially be poor in thorium and uranium and rich in lead, and as it cooled it would become rich in thorium and uranium and poor in lead. Thus its radiometric age would tend to decrease rapidly with time, and lava emitted later would tend to look younger. Another point is that of time. Suppose that the uranium does come to the top by whatever reason. Perhaps magma that is uranium rich tends to be lighter than other magma.
Or maybe the uranium poor rocks crystallize out first and the remaining magma is enriched in uranium. Would this cause trouble for our explanation? It depends how fast it happened. Some information from the book Uranium Geochemistry, Mineralogy, Geology provided by Jon Covey gives us evidence that fractionation processes are making radiometric dates much, much too old. The half life of U is 4. Thus radium is decaying 3 million times as fast as U At equilibrium, which should be attained in , years for this decay series, we should expect to have 3 million times as much U as radium to equalize the amount of daughter produced.
Cortini says geologists discovered that ten times more Ra than the equilibrium value was present in rocks from Vesuvius. They found similar excess radium at Mount St. Helens, Vulcanello, and Lipari and other volcanic sites. The only place where radioactive equilibrium of the U series exists in zero age lavas is in Hawiian rocks.
We need to consider the implications of this for radiometric dating. How is this excess of radium being produced? This radium cannot be the result of decay of uranium, since there is far too much of it. Either it is the result of an unknown decay process, or it is the result of fractionation which is greatly increasing the concentration of radium or greatly decreasing the concentration of uranium.
Thus only a small fraction of the radium present in the lava at most 10 percent is the result of decay of the uranium in the lava. This is interesting because both radium and lead are daughter products of uranium. If similar fractionation processes are operating for lead, this would mean that only a small fraction of the lead is the result of decay from the parent uranium, implying that the U-Pb radiometric dates are much, much too old.
Cortini, in an article appearing in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research also suggests this possibility. By analogy with the behaviour of Ra, Th and U it can be suggested that Pb, owing to its large mobility, was also fed to the magma by fluids. This can and must be tested. The open-system behaviour of Pb, if true, would have dramatic consequences In fact, U and Th both have isotopes of radium in their decay chains with half lives of a week or two, and 6.
Any process that is concentrating one isotope of radium will probably concentrate the others as well and invalidate these dating methods, too. Radium has a low melting point degrees K which may account for its concentration at the top of magma chambers. What radiometric dating needs to do to show its reliability is to demonstrate that no such fractionation could take place. Can this be done? With so many unknowns I don't think so. How Uranium and Thorium are preferentially incorporated in various minerals I now give evidences that uranium and thorium are incorporated into some minerals more than others.
This is not necessarily a problem for radiometric dating, because it can be taken into account. But as we saw above, processes that take place within magma chambers involving crystallization could result in a different concentration of uranium and thorium at the top of a magma chamber than at the bottom.
This can happen because different minerals incorporate different amounts of uranium and thorium, and these different minerals also have different melting points and different densities. If minerals that crystallize at the top of a magma chamber and fall, tend to incorporate a lot of uranium, this will tend to deplete uranium at the top of the magma chamber, and make the magma there look older. Concerning the distribution of parent and daughter isotopes in various substances, there are appreciable differences.
Faure shows that in granite U is 4. Some process is causing the differences in the ratios of these magmatic rocks. Depending on their oxidation state, according to Faure, uranium minerals can be very soluble in water while thorium compounds are, generally, very insoluble. These elements also show preferences for the minerals in which they are incorporated, so that they will tend to be "dissolved" in certain mineral "solutions" preferentially to one another. More U is found in carbonate rocks, while Th has a very strong preference for granites in comparison. I saw a reference that uranium reacts strongly, and is never found pure in nature.
So the question is what the melting points of its oxides or salts would be, I suppose. I also saw a statement that uranium is abundant in the crust, but never found in high concentrations. To me this indicates a high melting point for its minerals, as those with a low melting point might be expected to concentrate in the magma remaining after others crystallized out. Such a high melting point would imply fractionation in the magma.
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Thorium is close to uranium in the periodic table, so it may have similar properties, and similar remarks may apply to it. It turns out that uranium in magma is typically found in the form of uranium dioxide, with a melting point of degrees centrigrade. This high melting point suggests that uranium would crystallize and fall to the bottom of magma chambers. Geologists are aware of the problem of initial concentration of daughter elements, and attempt to take it into account.
U-Pb dating attempts to get around the lack of information about initial daughter concentrations by the choice of minerals that are dated. For example, zircons are thought to accept little lead but much uranium. Thus geologists assume that the lead in zircons resulted from radioactive decay. But I don't know how they can be sure how much lead zircons accept, and even they admit that zircons accept some lead.
Lead could easily reside in impurities and imperfections in the crystal structure. Also, John Woodmorappe's paper has some examples of anomalies involving zircons. It is known that the crystal structure of zircons does not accept much lead. However, it is unrealistic to expect a pure crystal to form in nature. Perfect crystals are very rare. In reality, I would expect that crystal growth would be blocked locally by various things, possibly particles in the way. Then the surrounding crystal surface would continue to grow and close up the gap, incorporating a tiny amount of magma.
I even read something about geologists trying to choose crystals without impurities by visual examination when doing radiometric dating. Thus we can assume that zircons would incorporate some lead in their impurities, potentially invalidating uranium-lead dates obtained from zircons. Chemical fractionation, as we have seen, calls radiometric dates into question. But this cannot explain the distribution of lead isotopes. There are actually several isotopes of lead that are produced by different parent substances uranium , uranium , and thorium.
Radiometric Dating is Accurate
One would not expect there to be much difference in the concentration of lead isotopes due to fractionation, since isotopes have properties that are very similar. So one could argue that any variations in Pb ratios would have to result from radioactive decay. However, the composition of lead isotopes between magma chambers could still differ, and lead could be incorporated into lava as it traveled to the surface from surrounding materials.
I also recall reading that geologists assume the initial Pb isotope ratios vary from place to place anyway. Later we will see that mixing of two kinds of magma, with different proportions of lead isotopes, could also lead to differences in concentrations. Mechanism of uranium crystallization and falling through the magma We now consider in more detail the process of fractionation that can cause uranium to be depleted at the top of magma chambers.
Uranium and thorium have high melting points and as magma cools, these elements crystallize out of solution and fall to the magma chamber's depths and remelt. This process is known as fractional crystallization. What this does is deplete the upper parts of the chamber of uranium and thorium, leaving the radiogenic lead. As this material leaves, that which is first out will be high in lead and low in parent isotopes.
This will date oldest. Magma escaping later will date younger because it is enriched in U and Th. There will be a concordance or agreement in dates obtained by these seemingly very different dating methods. This mechanism was suggested by Jon Covey. Tarbuck and Lutgens carefully explain the process of fractional crystallization in The Earth: An Introduction to Physical Geology. They show clear drawings of crystallized minerals falling through the magma and explain that the crystallized minerals do indeed fall through the magma chamber.
Further, most minerals of uranium and thorium are denser than other minerals, especially when those minerals are in the liquid phase. Crystalline solids tend to be denser than liquids from which they came. But the degree to which they are incorporated in other minerals with high melting points might have a greater influence, since the concentrations of uranium and thorium are so low.
Now another issue is simply the atomic weight of uranium and thorium, which is high. Any compound containing them is also likely to be heavy and sink to the bottom relative to others, even in a liquid form. If there is significant convection in the magma, this would be minimized, however. At any rate, there will be some effects of this nature that will produce some kinds of changes in concentration of uranium and thorium relative to lead from the top to the bottom of a magma chamber.
Some of the patterns that are produced may appear to give valid radiometric dates. The latter may be explained away due to various mechanisms. Let us consider processes that could cause uranium and thorium to be incorporated into minerals with a high melting point. I read that zircons absorb uranium, but not much lead. Thus they are used for U-Pb dating. But many minerals take in a lot of uranium. It is also known that uranium is highly reactive.
To me this suggests that it is eager to give up its 2 outer electrons. This would tend to produce compounds with a high dipole moment, with a positive charge on uranium and a negative charge on the other elements. This would in turn tend to produce a high melting point, since the atoms would attract one another electrostatically. I'm guessing a little bit here. There are a number of uranium compounds with different melting points, and in general it seems that the ones with the highest melting points are more stable.
I would suppose that in magma, due to reactions, most of the uranium would end up in the most stable compounds with the highest melting points. These would also tend to have high dipole moments. Now, this would also help the uranium to be incorporated into other minerals. The electric charge distribution would create an attraction between the uranium compound and a crystallizing mineral, enabling uranium to be incorporated.
But this would be less so for lead, which reacts less strongly, and probably is not incorporated so easily into minerals.
So in the minerals crystallizing at the top of the magma, uranium would be taken in more than lead. These minerals would then fall to the bottom of the magma chamber and thus uranium at the top would be depleted. It doesn't matter if these minerals are relatively lighter than others. The point is that they are heavier than the magma. Two kinds of magma and implications for radiometric dating It turns out that magma has two sources, ocean plates and material from the continents crustal rock. This fact has profound implications for radiometric dating.
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Mantle material is very low in uranium and thorium, having only 0. The source of magma for volcanic activity is subducted oceanic plates. Subduction means that these plates are pushed under the continents by motions of the earth's crust. While oceanic plates are basaltic mafic originating from the mid-oceanic ridges due to partial melting of mantle rock, the material that is magma is a combination of oceanic plate material and continental sediments. Subducted oceanic plates begin to melt when they reach depths of about kilometers See Tarbuck, The Earth, p.
In other words, mantle is not the direct source of magma. Further, Faure explains that uraninite UO sub2 is a component of igneous rocks Faure, p. Uraninite is also known as pitchblende. According to plate tectonic theory, continental crust overrides oceanic crust when these plates collide because the continental crust is less dense than the ocean floor. As the ocean floor sinks, it encounters increasing pressures and temperatures within the crust.
Ultimately, the pressures and temperatures are so high that the rocks in the subducted oceanic crust melt. Once the rocks melt, a plume of molten material begins to rise in the crust. As the plume rises it melts and incorporates other crustal rocks. This rising body of magma is an open system with respect to the surrounding crustal rocks.
It is possible that these physical processes have an impact on the determined radiometric age of the rock as it cools and crystallizes. Time is not a direct measurement. The actual data are the ratios of parent and daughter isotopes present in the sample. Time is one of the values that can be determined from the slope of the line representing the distribution of the isotopes. Isotope distributions are determined by the chemical and physical factors governing a given magma chamber. Rhyolites in Yellowstone N. Most genetic models for uranium deposits in sandstones in the U.
Most of the uranium deposits in Wyoming are formed from uraniferous groundwaters derived from Precambrian granitic terranes. Uranium in the major uranium deposits in the San Juan basin of New Mexico is believed to have been derived from silicic volcanic ash from Jurassic island arcs at the edge of the continent. From the above sources, we see that another factor influencing radiometric dates is the proportion of the magma that comes from subducted oceanic plates and the proportion that comes from crustal rock.
Initially, we would expect most of it to come from subducted oceanic plates, which are uranium and thorium poor and maybe lead rich. Later, more of the crustal rock would be incorporated by melting into the magma, and thus the magma would be richer in uranium and thorium and poorer in lead. So this factor would also make the age appear to become younger with time.
There are two kinds of magma, and the crustal material which is enriched in uranium also tends to be lighter. For our topic on radiometric dating and fractional crystallization, there is nothing that would prevent uranium and thorium ores from crystallizing within the upper, lighter portion of the magma chamber and descending to the lower boundaries of the sialic portion.
The upper portion of the sialic magma would be cooler since its in contact with continental rock, and the high melting point of UO sub 2 uranium dioxide, the common form in granite: The same kind of fractional crystallization would be true of non-granitic melts. I think we can build a strong case for fictitious ages in magmatic rocks as a result of fractional cystallization and geochemical processes. As we have seen, we cannot ignore geochemical effects while we consider geophysical effects. Sialic granitic and mafic basaltic magma are separated from each other, with uranium and thorium chemically predestined to reside mainly in sialic magma and less in mafic rock.
Here is yet another mechanism that can cause trouble for radiometric dating: As lava rises through the crust, it will heat up surrounding rock. Lead has a low melting point, so it will melt early and enter the magma. This will cause an apparent large age. Uranium has a much higher melting point.
It will enter later, probably due to melting of materials in which it is embedded. This will tend to lower the ages. Mechanisms that can create isochrons giving meaningless ages: Geologists attempt to estimate the initial concentration of daughter product by a clever device called an isochron. Let me make some general comments about isochrons. The idea of isochrons is that one has a parent element, P, a daughter element, D, and another isotope, N, of the daughter that is not generated by decay.
One would assume that initially, the concentration of N and D in different locations are proportional, since their chemical properties are very similar. Note that this assumption implies a thorough mixing and melting of the magma, which would also mix in the parent substances as well. Then we require some process to preferentially concentrate the parent substances in certain places.
Radioactive decay would generate a concentration of D proportional to P. By taking enough measurements of the concentrations of P, D, and N, we can solve for c1 and c2, and from c1 we can determine the radiometric age of the sample. Otherwise, the system is degenerate. Thus we need to have an uneven distribution of D relative to N at the start. If these ratios are observed to obey such a linear relationship in a series of rocks, then an age can be computed from them. The bigger c1 is, the older the rock is. That is, the more daughter product relative to parent product, the greater the age.
Thus we have the same general situation as with simiple parent-to-daughter computations, more daughter product implies an older age. This is a very clever idea. However, there are some problems with it. First, in order to have a meaningful isochron, it is necessary to have an unusual chain of events. Initially, one has to have a uniform ratio of lead isotopes in the magma. Usually the concentration of uranium and thorium varies in different places in rock. This will, over the assumed millions of years, produce uneven concentrations of lead isotopes. To even this out, one has to have a thorough mixing of the magma.
Even this is problematical, unless the magma is very hot, and no external material enters. Now, after the magma is thoroughly mixed, the uranium and thorium will also be thoroughly mixed. What has to happen next to get an isochron is that the uranium or thorium has to concentrate relative to the lead isotopes, more in some places than others. So this implies some kind of chemical fractionation. Then the system has to remain closed for a long time. This chemical fractionation will most likely arise by some minerals incorporating more or less uranium or thorium relative to lead.
Anyway, to me it seems unlikely that this chain of events would occur. Another problem with isochrons is that they can occur by mixing and other processes that result in isochrons yielding meaningless ages. Sometimes, according to Faure, what seems to be an isochron is actually a mixing line, a leftover from differentiation in the magma. Fractionation followed by mixing can create isochrons giving too old ages, without any fractionation of daughter isotopes taking place. To get an isochron with a false age, all you need is 1 too much daughter element, due to some kind of fractionation and 2 mixing of this with something else that fractionated differently.
Since fractionation and mixing are so common, we should expect to find isochrons often. How they correlate with the expected ages of their geologic period is an interesting question. There are at least some outstanding anomalies.
Faure states that chemical fractionation produces "fictitious isochrons whose slopes have no time significance. As an example, he uses Pliocene to Recent lava flows and from lava flows in historical times to illustrate the problem. He says, these flows should have slopes approaching zero less than 1 million years , but they instead appear to be much older million years.
Steve Austin has found lava rocks on the Uinkeret Plateau at Grand Canyon with fictitious isochrons dating at 1.
Scientist Realizes Important Flaw in Radioactive Dating – Proslogion
Then a mixing of A and B will have the same fixed concentration of N everywhere, but the amount of D will be proportional to the amount of P. This produces an isochron yielding the same age as sample A. This is a reasonable scenario, since N is a non-radiogenic isotope not produced by decay such as lead , and it can be assumed to have similar concentrations in many magmas. Magma from the ocean floor has little U and little U and probably little lead byproducts lead and lead Magma from melted continental material probably has more of both U and U and lead and lead Thus we can get an isochron by mixing, that has the age of the younger-looking continental crust.
The age will not even depend on how much crust is incorporated, as long as it is non-zero. However, if the crust is enriched in lead or impoverished in uranium before the mixing, then the age of the isochron will be increased. If the reverse happens before mixing, the age of the isochron will be decreased. Any process that enriches or impoverishes part of the magma in lead or uranium before such a mixing will have a similar effect.
So all of the scenarios given before can also yield spurious isochrons. I hope that this discussion will dispel the idea that there is something magical about isochrons that prevents spurious dates from being obtained by enrichment or depletion of parent or daughter elements as one would expect by common sense reasoning.
So all the mechanisms mentioned earlier are capable of producing isochrons with ages that are too old, or that decrease rapidly with time. The conclusion is the same, radiometric dating is in trouble. I now describe this mixing in more detail. Suppose P p is the concentration of parent at a point p in a rock.
The point p specifies x,y, and z co-ordinates. Let D p be the concentration of daughter at the point p. Let N p be the concentration of some non-radiogenic not generated by radioactive decay isotope of D at point p. Suppose this rock is obtained by mixing of two other rocks, A and B.
Suppose that A has a for the sake of argument, uniform concentration of P1 of parent, D1 of daughter, and N1 of non-radiogenic isotope of the daughter. Thus P1, D1, and N1 are numbers between 0 and 1 whose sum adds to less than 1. Suppose B has concentrations P2, D2, and N2. Let r p be the fraction of A at any given point p in the mixture. So the usual methods for augmenting and depleting parent and daughter substances still work to influence the age of this isochron. More daughter product means an older age, and less daughter product relative to parent means a younger age.
In fact, more is true. Any isochron whatever with a positive age and a constant concentration of N can be constructed by such a mixing. It is only necessary to choose r p and P1, N1, and N2 so as to make P p and D p agree with the observed values, and there is enough freedom to do this. Anyway, to sum up, there are many processes that can produce a rock or magma A having a spurious parent-to-daughter ratio.