U-series dating is a family of methods which can be applied to different materials over different time ranges. Each method is named after the isotopes measured to obtain the date, mostly a daughter and its parent.
|Isotope ratio measured||Analytical method||Time range (ka)||Materials|
|230Th/234U||Alpha spec.mass spec.||1-350||Carbonates, phosphates, organic matter|
|231Pa/235U||Alpha spec.||1-300||Carbonates, phosphates|
|234U/238U||Alpha spec.mass spec.||100-1,000||Carbonates, phosphates|
|U-trend||Alpha spec.||10-1,000(?)||Detrital sediment|
|230Th/232Th||Alpha spec.||5-300||Marine sediment|
|231Pa/230Th||Alpha spec.||5-300||Marine sediment|
|4He/U||mass spec. (gas)||20-400(?)||Coral|
Uranium–thorium dating is based on the decay of 234U to 230Th.
232Th is a primordial radioisotope, but 230Th only occurs as an intermediate decay product in the decay chain of 238U.
Uranium–thorium dating is a relatively short-range process because of the short half-lives of 234U and 230Th relative to the age of the Earth: it is also accompanied by a sister process involving the alpha decay of 235U into 231Th, which very quickly becomes the longer-lived 231Pa, and this process is often used to check the results of uranium–thorium dating.
Uranium–thorium dating is commonly used to determine the age of calcium carbonate materials such as speleothem or coral, because uranium is more soluble in water than thorium and protactinium, which are selectively precipitated into ocean-floor sediments, where their ratios are measured. The scheme has a range of several hundred thousand years.
"Uranium–thorium dating has an upper age limit of somewhat over 500,000 years, defined by the half-life of thorium-230, the precision with which one can measure the thorium-230/uranium-234 ratio in a sample, and the accuracy to which one know the half-lives of thorium-230 and uranium-234. Using this technique to calculate an age, the ratio of uranium-234 to its parent isotope uranium-238 must also be measured."
U-Th dating yields most accurate results if applied to precipitated calcium carbonate, that is in stalagmites, travertines, and lacustrine limestones. Bone and shell are less reliable. Mass spectrometry can achieve a precision of ±1%. Conventional alpha counting¨s precision is ±5%. Mass spectrometry also uses smaller samples.
Ionium–thorium dating measures the ratio of 232Th to 230Th.
The name ionium for 230Th is a remnant from a period when different isotopes were not recognised to be the same element and were given different names.
Ionium–thorium dating is a related process, which exploits the insolubility of thorium (both 232Th and 230Th) and thus its presence in ocean sediments to date these sediments by measuring the ratio of 232Th to 230Th.
Both of these dating methods assume that the proportion of 230Th to 232Th is a constant during the period when the sediment layer was formed, that the sediment did not already contain thorium before contributions from the decay of uranium, and that the thorium cannot migrate within the sediment layer.
- Henry P. Schwarcz (January 1989). "Uranium series dating of Quaternary deposits". Quaternary International 1: 7–17. doi:10.1016/1040-6182(89)90005-0.
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