by Tas Walker A geologist works out the relative age of a rock by carefully studying where the rock is found in the field.
The field relationships, as they are called, are of primary importance and all radiometric dates are evaluated against them.
Isochron methods avoid the problems which can potentially result from both of the above assumptions.
Isochron dating requires a fourth measurement to be taken, which is the amount of a different isotope of the same element as the daughter product of radioactive decay.
In a related article on geologic ages (Ages), we presented a chart with the various geologic eras and their ages.
In a separate article (Radiometric dating), we sketched in some technical detail how these dates are calculated using radiometric dating techniques.
Dating schemes based on rates of radioactivity have been refined and scrutinized for several decades.
The radiocarbon dating method is based on the fact that radiocarbon is constantly being created in the atmosphere by the interaction of cosmic rays with atmospheric nitrogen.
The resulting radiocarbon combines with atmospheric oxygen to form radioactive carbon dioxide, which is incorporated into plants by photosynthesis; animals then acquire in a sample from a dead plant or animal such as a piece of wood or a fragment of bone provides information that can be used to calculate when the animal or plant died.
Other corrections must be made to account for the proportion of throughout the biosphere (reservoir effects).
Additional complications come from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, and from the above-ground nuclear tests done in the 1950s and 1960s.