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Relative dating is the process of determining if one rock or geologic event is older or younger than another, without knowing their specific ages—i. The principles of relative time are simple, even obvious now, but were not generally accepted by scholars until the scientific revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries [ 3 ]. James Hutton see Chapter 1 realized geologic processes are slow and his ideas on uniformitarianism i.


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Placing of events in the order in which they occurred without any relationship to the actual time during which any one event occurred is known as relative dating.

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The simplest and most intuitive way of dating geological features is to look at the relationships between them. For example, the principle of superposition states that sedimentary layers are deposited in sequence, and, unless the entire sequence has been turned over by tectonic processes or disrupted by faulting, the layers at the bottom are older than those at the top.

The principle of inclusions states that any rock fragments that are included in rock must be older than the rock in which they are included.

For example, a xenolith in an igneous rock or a clast in sedimentary rock must be older than the rock that includes it Figure 8. The principle of cross-cutting relationships states that any geological feature that cuts across, or disrupts another feature must be younger than the feature that is disrupted.

An example of this is given in Figure 8. The lower sandstone layer is disrupted by two faultsso we can infer that the faults are younger than that layer.

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But the faults do not appear to continue into the coal seam, and they certainly do not continue into the upper sandstone. So we can infer that coal seam is younger than the faults because it disrupts themand of course the upper sandstone is youngest of all, because it lies on top of the coal seam. A 50 cm wide light-grey felsic intrusive igneous dyke extending from the lower left to the middle right — offset in several places.

Using the principle of cross-cutting relationships outlined above, determine the relative ages of these three rock types. An unconformity represents an interruption in the process of deposition of sedimentary rocks. Recognizing unconformities is important for understanding time relationships in sedimentary sequences.

An example of an unconformity is shown in Figure 8. The Proterozoic rocks of the Grand Canyon Group have been tilted and then eroded to a flat surface prior to deposition of the younger Paleozoic rocks. The difference in time between the youngest of the Proterozoic rocks and the oldest of the Paleozoic rocks is close to million years.

Tilting and erosion of the older rocks took place during this time, and if there was any deposition going on in this area, the evidence of it is now gone. There are four types of unconformities, as summarized in Table 8.

Relative dating

Exercise 8. Dark grey metamorphosed basalt 3.

A 50 cm wide light-grey felsic intrusive igneous dyke extending from the lower left to the middle right — offset in several places Using the principle of cross-cutting relationships outlined above, determine the relative ages of these three rock types. The near-vertical stripes are blasting drill holes.

Relative dating principles

The image is about 7 m across. : 8. Next: 8. Share This Book Share on Twitter. A boundary between two sequences of sedimentary rocks where the underlying ones have been tilted or folded and eroded prior to the deposition of the younger ones as in Figure 8.

A boundary between two sequences of sedimentary rocks where the underlying ones have been eroded but not tilted prior to the deposition of the younger ones as in Figure 8.

A time gap in a sequence of sedimentary rocks that does not show up as an angular unconformity or a disconformity.