Welcome to the Argon/Argon and Noble Gas Research Laboratory

Most people envision radiometric dating by analogy to sand grains in an hourglass: the grains fall at a known rate, so that the ratio of grains between top and bottom is always proportional to the time elapsed. In principle, the potassium-argon K-Ar decay system is no different. Of the naturally occurring isotopes of potassium, 40K is radioactive and decays into 40Ar at a precisely known rate, so that the ratio of 40K to 40Ar in minerals is always proportional to the time elapsed since the mineral formed [ Note: 40K is a potassium atom with an atomic mass of 40 units; 40Ar is an argon atom with an atomic mass of 40 units]. In theory, therefore, we can estimate the age of the mineral simply by measuring the relative abundances of each isotope. Over the past 60 years, potassium-argon dating has been extremely successful, particularly in dating the ocean floor and volcanic eruptions. K-Ar ages increase away from spreading ridges, just as we might expect, and recent volcanic eruptions yield very young dates, while older volcanic rocks yield very old dates. Though we know that K-Ar dating works and is generally quite accurate, however, the method does have several limitations. First of all, the dating technique assumes that upon cooling, potassium-bearing minerals contain a very tiny amount of argon an amount equal to that in the atmosphere. While this assumption holds true in the vast majority of cases, excess argon can occasionally be trapped in the mineral when it crystallizes, causing the K-Ar model age to be a few hundred thousand to a few million years older than the actual cooling age. Secondly , K-Ar dating assumes that very little or no argon or potassium was lost from the mineral since it formed.

Potassium-Argon and Argon-Argon Dating of Crustal Rocks and the Problem of Excess Argon

Western Australian Argon Isotope Facility. The Ar technique can be applied to any rocks and minerals that contain K e. Typically, we need to irradiates the sample along with known age standards with fast neutrons in the core of a nuclear reactor. This process converts another isotope of potassium 39 K to gaseous 39 Ar. This allows the simultaneous isotopic noble gas measurement of both the parent 39 Ar K and daughter 40 Ar isotopes in the same aliquot.

The main advantage of Ar-Ar dating is that it allows much smaller samples to be dated, and more age and composition e.

The 40Ar/39Ar technique is a drastically improved version of the K/Ar dating method. In essence, 40Ar/39Ar dating can be applied to date every.

Paleolithic Archaeology Paleoanthropology. Dating Methods Used in Paleoanthropology. Radiopotassium, Argon-Argon dating Potassium-argon dating or K-Ar dating is a radiometric dating method used in geochronology and archaeology. It is based on measurement of the product of the radioactive decay of an isotope of potassium K into argon Ar. Potassium is a common element found in many materials, such as micas, clay minerals, tephra, and evaporites.

In these materials, the decay product 40Ar is able to escape the liquid molten rock, but starts to accumulate when the rock solidifies recrystallizes. Time since recrystallization is calculated by measuring the ratio of the amount of 40Ar accumulated to the amount of 40K remaining. The long half-life of 40K allows the method to be used to calculate the absolute age of samples older than a few thousand years. The older method required two samples for dating while the newer method requires only one.

This newer method converts a stable form of potassium 39K into 39Ar while irradiated with neutrons in a nuclear reactor.

Potassium-argon (K-Ar) dating

Have you ever wondered how we can tell when the dinosaurs went extinct? The answers lie in the noble gas argon. The lower the volume, the higher the sensitivity.

We simply read off the ³⁹Ar/⁴⁰Ar* value and use this to calculate the age of the sample. Using this method it doesn’t matter whether excess-Ar is present or not.

Potassium, an alkali metal, the Earth’s eighth most abundant element is common in many rocks and rock-forming minerals. The quantity of potassium in a rock or mineral is variable proportional to the amount of silica present. Therefore, mafic rocks and minerals often contain less potassium than an equal amount of silicic rock or mineral. Potassium can be mobilized into or out of a rock or mineral through alteration processes.

Due to the relatively heavy atomic weight of potassium, insignificant fractionation of the different potassium isotopes occurs. However, the 40 K isotope is radioactive and therefore will be reduced in quantity over time. But, for the purposes of the KAr dating system, the relative abundance of 40 K is so small and its half-life is so long that its ratios with the other Potassium isotopes are considered constant. Argon, a noble gas, constitutes approximately 0. Because it is present within the atmosphere, every rock and mineral will have some quantity of Argon.

Argon can mobilized into or out of a rock or mineral through alteration and thermal processes. Like Potassium, Argon cannot be significantly fractionated in nature. However, 40 Ar is the decay product of 40 K and therefore will increase in quantity over time.

Potassium-Argon Dating Methods

However, it is well established that volcanic rocks e. If so, then the K-Ar and Ar-Ar “dating” of crustal rocks would be similarly questionable. Thus under certain conditions Ar can be incorporated into minerals which are supposed to exclude Ar when they crystallize. Patterson et al. Dalrymple, referring to metamorphism and melting of rocks in the crust, has commented: “If the rock is heated or melted at some later time, then some or all the 40 Ar may escape and the K-Ar clock is partially or totally reset.

Aquifer characteristics u-series; band structure; ar–ar and archaeology. Potassium–Argon dating, sori93 biotite, is inconsistent with this method. Jack dymond.

In this paper I try to explain why the potassium-argon dating method was developed much later than other radiometric methods like U-He and U-Pb , which were established at the beginning of the 20th century. In fact the pioneering paper by Aldrich and Nier was published 50 years after the discovery of polonium and radium, when nearly all the details concerning potassium isotopes and radioactivity of potassium had been investigated.

Argon 40 in potassium minerals. Physical Reviews 74 8 : —, DOI The use of ion exchange columns in mineral analysis for age determination. The mass spectra of the alkali metals. Philosophical Magazine Ser. A reappraisal of the decay constants and branching ratio of 40K.

What can potassium argon dating be used for

Thank you for visiting nature. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer. In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript. A Nature Research Journal. The Jinchang gold deposit has been extensively studied, but precise dates for its formation are debated.

The 40 Ar/39Ar dating technique is a recently developed analytical variation of the conventional K-Ar method. It has greatly enhanced the general applicability of​.

In the diagram below I have drawn 2 different age spectra. The bottom, green spectrum is what we would expect to see if we had an ideal sample that has no excess-Ar, and the top, blue spectrum is what we might expect if the sample contained excess-Ar in fluid inclusions. The data for each of those 7 steps is represented by one of the 7 boxes on the diagram. On an age spectrum, the ages are plotted as boxes to show how big the errors are on each step. On the green diagram I have also drawn age data points and error bars at the end of each box to help you visualise it better.

Hopefully you can see that, on the green diagram, all the ages are very similar, but on the blue diagram the first three steps give older Ar-ages. In this situation we can use all of the data to calculate a more precise age for the sample — that is represented by the dotted black line.


Geochronology involves understanding time in relation to geological events and processes. Geochronological investigations examine rocks, minerals, fossils and sediments. Absolute and relative dating approaches complement each other. Relative age determinations involve paleomagnetism and stable isotope ratio calculations, as well as stratigraphy.

From the discovery of radioactivity to the development of the K-Ar dating method. Stanisław Hał@ 1 Mass Spectrometry Laboratory.

Since the early twentieth century scientists have found ways to accurately measure geological time. The discovery of radioactivity in uranium by the French physicist, Henri Becquerel , in paved the way of measuring absolute time. Shortly after Becquerel’s find, Marie Curie , a French chemist, isolated another highly radioactive element, radium.

The realisation that radioactive materials emit rays indicated a constant change of those materials from one element to another. The New Zealand physicist Ernest Rutherford , suggested in that the exact age of a rock could be measured by means of radioactivity. For the first time he was able to exactly measure the age of a uranium mineral. When Rutherford announced his findings it soon became clear that Earth is millions of years old.

These scientists and many more after them discovered that atoms of uranium, radium and several other radioactive materials are unstable and disintegrate spontaneously and consistently forming atoms of different elements and emitting radiation, a form of energy in the process. The original atom is referred to as the parent and the following decay products are referred to as the daughter.

For example: after the neutron of a rubidiumatom ejects an electron, it changes into a strontium atom, leaving an additional proton. Carbon is a very special element.

Potassium-argon Dating

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