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Author Topic:   The radiometric dating of basalts
Posts: 3530
From: Duluth, Minnesota, U.S. (West end of Lake Superior)
Joined: 11-11-2001
Member Rating: 5.8

Message 1 of 10 (519654)
08-15-2009 9:19 PM

Back in my geology school days in the mid to late 70's, my understanding was that basaltic rocks were unsuitable for radiometric dating. This is because concentrations of elements such as Uranium (U), Rubidium (Rb), and Potassium (K) are too low in such mafic rocks.

But I now see members referring to radiometric datings of oceanic crust rocks that I must presume to be basaltic. I have done searches to try to determine how these datings are done, but have never been able to find anything.

So, the question is, how are these basaltic rock datings done?


Professor, geology, Whatsamatta U
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 Message 3 by JonF, posted 08-16-2009 9:13 AM Minnemooseus has acknowledged this reply
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Message 2 of 10 (519659)
08-15-2009 9:59 PM

Thread Copied from Proposed New Topics Forum
Thread copied here from the The radiometric dating of basalts thread in the Proposed New Topics forum.
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Message 3 of 10 (519683)
08-16-2009 9:13 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Minnemooseus
08-15-2009 9:19 PM

Well,I'mmore on the amateur thoretical side. But Radiogenic Isotope Geology (2nd Ed. is a great resource. Combined with Google Site Search I come up with:


The first accurate measurement of meteorite initial ratios was made by Papanastassiou et al. (1969) on basaltic achondrites. These differ from chondritic meteorites in showing evidence of differentiation after their accretion from the solar nebula. However, they may not have participated in the full planetary differentiation process which generated iron meteorites. Their low Rb/Sr ratios have resulted in only limited radiogenic Sr production since differentiation, so an accurate initial ratio determination is possible.

In order to make this determination, Papanastassiou et al. analysed whole-rock samples from seven different basaltic achondrites, yielding an isochron (Fig. 3.10) without any excess scatter over analytical error. An age of 4.39 " 0.26 Byr was calculated using the old decay constant (8 = 1.39 H 10!11 yr!1). The initial ratio of 0.69899 " 5 was referred to by Papanastassiou et al. as the ‘Basaltic Achondrite Best Initial’ or BABI. This value represents a bench-mark to which other meteorite initial ratios may be compared. Birck and Allegre (1978) repeated this study with the addition of separated minerals from Juvinas and Ibitira, yielding an identical initial ratio, but an improved age determination of 4.57 " 0.13 Byr (same decay constant). However, Rb)Sr mineral isochrons are not possible for other achondrites due to later disturbance of the Rb—Sr system.


Chondritic meteorites have been readily dated by the Rb)Sr method, but achondrites are more problematical. Bulk samples usually have low Rb/Sr ratios, yielding ages of low precision, while separated minerals in many achondrites yield Rb)Sr ages below 4.5 Byr, indicative of disturbance. The Sm)Nd system in separated minerals from achondrites is more resistant to re-setting, yielding better age estimates. The first Sm)Nd dating study was performed by Notsu et al. (1973) on the achondrite Juvinas, but with low analytical precision. Lugmair et al. (1975) obtained much more precise results on minerals from the same meteorite (Fig. 4.1) yielding an age of 4560 " 80 Myr (2F).

Numerous other basaltic achondrites have been dated by Sm–Nd, and with the exception of Stannern (Lugmair and Scheinin, 1975), all yield ages in the range 4550 ) 4600 Myr. These age determinations have since been superseded by Pb–Pb dating studies (section 5.3). However, the good agreement between the Sm–Nd and Pb–Pb dates has served the important function of confirming the 147Sm half-life of 106 Byr.

Fig. 4.1. Sm)Nd isochron for whole-rocks and minerals from the basaltic achondrite Juvinas. Nd isotope ratios are affected by the choice of normalising factor for mass fractionation. Data from Lugmair et al. (1975).


In contrast to these difficulties, several recent studies have generated good isochrons from sulphide-poor material. One example is a dating study on the Deccan basalts (Allegre et al., 1999). A suite of ten whole-rock basalt samples formed an excellent Re–Os isochron with a good spread of data points. Using a decay constant of 1.663 H 10!11 yr!1, the isochron gave a precise age of 65.6 " 0.3 Myr, in excellent agreement with previous K–Ar and Ar–Ar ages averaging 64.5 " 1.5 Myr. This study shows that young whole-rock suites are capable of generating Re–Os isochrons, although older material may be more problematical.


Age spectrum results from the better of two basaltic komatiite samples are shown in Fig. 10.19. In contrast to the komatiites, these samples display significant excess argon in the low- and high-temperature gas releases, with an integrated age of 3778 Myr. Nevertheless, the best plateau age of 3447 Myr is in close agreement with the best komatiite results. The saddle-shaped form is well known for samples containing excess argon.


The Ar)Ar dating technique was found to be particularly useful for dating small whole-rock samples of lunar material, especially fine-grained mare basalts. The dashed profile in Fig. 10.20 shows a typical release pattern (Turner and Cadogan, 1974), attributed to 8% radiogenic Ar loss from K-rich sites with low Ar retentivity. However, other samples showed either a sharp decrease in apparent age in the high-temperature fractions, or, particularly in fine-grained rocks, a progressive decrease in apparent age over most of the gas release. The latter examples led workers to suspect that Ar redistribution was occurring within the sample, possibly during the irradiation process.

Fig. 10.19. Age and Ca/K spectrum for two runs on a basaltic komatiite showing evidence of inherited Ar during low- and high-temperature emission from high Ca/K domains. Arrows separate successive gas releases with identical ages. After Lopez Martinez et al. (1984).

Fig. 10.20. The effect of fine crushing on a 40)39 age spectrum, due to 39Ar recoil. Dashed profile = analysed rock chip of a lunar mare basalt. Solid profile = similar sample activated after fine powdering. After Turner and Cadogan (1974).

One of the most important applications of the K)Ar method has been to calibrate the magnetic reversal time-scale defined by sea floor magnetic anomaly ‘stripes’. The amount of ocean floor material recovered which is fresh (unaltered) enough for dating is limited, so most attention has been focussed on dating terrestrial sections (such as basic lavas) which yield a good magnetostratigraphy. The K)Ar method is really the only geochronometer capable of dating young basic rocks. Since its establishment, the reversal time-scale has been subject to almost continuous revision, and some landmarks are reviewed here.

Pioneering work was performed by Cox et al. (1963) on 0 ) 3 Myr-old lavas from California, and by McDougall and Tarling (1964) on 0 ) 3 Myr-old lavas from the Hawaiian islands. Cox et al. used K)Ar dates on sanidine, obsidian, biotite, and whole-rocks, while McDougall and Tarling worked on basalt whole-rocks. Good agreement between the two data sets confirmed that the reversal timescale is due to world-wide changes in the polarity of the Earth’s magnetic field, rather than post-crystallisation alteration phenomena, as had been suggested by some workers.


Allegre, C. J., Birck, J.-L., Capmas, F. and Courtillot, V. (1999). Age of the Deccan traps using 187Re–187Os systematics. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 170, 197–204.

Birck, J. L. and Allegre, C. J. (1978). Chronology and chemical history of the parent body of basaltic achondrites studied by the 87Rb)87Sr method. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 39, 37)51.

Dalrymple, G. B. and Moore, J. G. (1968). Argon 40: excess in submarine pillow basalts from Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii. Science 161, 1132)5.

Goldstein, S. J., Murrell, M. T. and Williams, R. W. (1993). 231Pa and 230Th chronology of mid-ocean ridge basalts. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 115, 151)9

Lopez Martinez, M., York, D., Hall, C. M. and Hanes, J. A. (1984). Oldest reliable 40Ar/39Ar ages for terrestrial rocks: Barberton Mountain komatiites. Nature 307, 352)4.

Lugmair, G. W. and Scheinin, N. B. (1975). Sm)Nd systematics of the Stannern meteorite. Meteoritics 10, 447)8 (abstract).

Lugmair, G. W., Scheinin, N. B., and Marti, K. (1975). Search for extinct 146Sm, I. The isotopic abundance of 142Nd in the Juvinas meteorite. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 27, 79)84

McDougall, I., Polach, H. A. and Stipp, J. J. (1969). Excess radiogenic argon in young subaerial basalts from the Auckland volcanic field, New Zealand. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 33, 1485)1520.

McDougall, I. and Tarling, D. H. (1964). Dating geomagnetic polarity zones. Nature 202, 171)2

Notsu, K., Mabuchi, H., Yoshioka, O., Matsuda, J. and Ozima, M. (1973). Evidence of the extinct nuclide 146Sm in ‘Juvinas’ achondrite. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 19, 29)36.

Papanastassiou, D. A., Wasserburg, G. J. and Burnett, D. S. (1969). Initial strontium isotopic abundances and the resolution of small time differences in the formation of planetary objects. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 5, 361)76

Turner, G. and Cadogan, P. H. (1974). Possible effects of 39Ar recoil in 40Ar/39Ar dating. Proc. 5th Lunar Sci. Conf. Pergamon, pp. 1601)15.

Williams, R. W. and Gill, J. B. (1992). Th isotope and U-series disequilibria in some alkali basalts. Geophys. Res. Lett. 19, 139)42.


Also a Google Scholar Search turns up bunches of hits.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by Minnemooseus, posted 08-15-2009 9:19 PM Minnemooseus has acknowledged this reply

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Message 4 of 10 (634076)
09-18-2011 9:56 PM

{Spam and other blather deleted - Adminnemooseus}

Edited by Adminnemooseus, : See above.

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Message 6 of 10 (660107)
04-21-2012 2:54 AM

Thanks for helping me out!!


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Message 7 of 10 (660112)
04-21-2012 4:06 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Minnemooseus
08-15-2009 9:19 PM

OK, this is an old topic. And I'm not a geologist.

My understanding of your OP is that it's basalt in continental plates that are unsuitable for dating because they are too old, which would cause concentrations of the elements you list to be too low.

OK, my understanding is that oceanic crusts are younger than continental crusts. Am I mistaken in this? Well, the Pacific plate is apparently older and is subtending under boundary plates, but the mid-Atlantic region is spreading, creating new crustal rock all the time. So why would that crust be too old to contain the concentrations of elements that you might expect?

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Message 8 of 10 (660126)
04-21-2012 8:03 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Minnemooseus
08-15-2009 9:19 PM

Dating Basalt
I see the OP is pretty old, but in light of some recent activity I'd like to add my two cents worth.

Firstly Baddeleyite is a zirconium oxide found in mafic rocks. Although wiki (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baddeleyite) describes it as rare, I have had a pretty good success rate having it identified and dated in samples of terrestrial basalts and gabbros I have collected.

Secondly, and possibly more importantly, is the development of the SHRIMP (proudly Australian!). The SHRIMP (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SHRIMP) can measure isotopic abundance at micrometre scale to a high degree of accuracy so thus only a small amount of material is required to get, for example, a U-Pb date. Older dating techniques required the collection of a substantial number of zircon grains which were then digested in acid to get measure their isotopic abundances. Obviously collecting enough zircon from mafic materials was often very difficult. Additionally, this technique could sometimes give spurious results if zircons with a complex crystallisation history (ie zoned zircons) were not identified and removed from the sample set. The SHRIMP is sensitive enough to date each zircon individually, so it is fantastic for rock types were zircon minerals are rare, and in some instances in can date individual zones within a single zircon crystal to give a crystallisation age for each zonation. Good times for geochronologists!

This message is a reply to:
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Posts: 3530
From: Duluth, Minnesota, U.S. (West end of Lake Superior)
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Message 9 of 10 (665399)
06-12-2012 9:30 PM
Reply to: Message 8 by Boof
04-21-2012 8:03 AM

Re: Dating Basalt
Thank you for this message. I think it answers what I was looking for. All hail the mighty SHRIMP (Sensitive High Resolution Ion Microprobe).

Comments about other messages:

JonF, in message 3, just overwhelmed me. Thanks for the effort, but more than I was looking for.

JonF writes:

Also a Google Scholar Search turns up bunches of hits.

I think I was trying to use scirus.com, which is heavily slanted towards searching the real technical journals (not the Google Scholar isn't). Anyway, Scirus just didn't work for me.

Dewise1, in message 7:

Dewise1 writes:

My understanding of your OP is that it's basalt in continental plates that are unsuitable for dating because they are too old, which would cause concentrations of the elements you list to be too low. ...

My college geology was in the mid to late 1970's. At the time (or the technology of the time), basalts of any age just didn't have the needed minerals and/or elements in useful concentrations.

Thanks again, for all your efforts.


Edited by Minnemooseus, : Add wikipedia SHRIMP link (even though Boof did have the same in his message.

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Message 10 of 10 (665402)
06-12-2012 10:42 PM
Reply to: Message 9 by Minnemooseus
06-12-2012 9:30 PM

Re: Dating Basalt
Moose: Science 7 June 2002: Vol. 296 no. 5574 pp. 1846-1849
has a bunch of argon-argon dates on basalts of the Siberian Traps, dating the end of the Permian.
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