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Lab Exercise V

Geologic time and relative dating

Earth (geologic) events, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, and erosion, occur over a vast period of geologic time and by a multitude of geologic processes. Each of these geologic processes leaves a record with its significant historyin particular, the order in which these geologic events occurred and when the event happened (its age). The process of determining which geologic event happened in relation to other geologic events is called relative dating. Essentially, relative dating is the determination of the order in which a sequence of geologic events occurred. Understanding the relative time of these events helps geologists to interpret geologic history. The ability to interpret geologic history has enabled geologists to develop a more precise geologic time scale. Heres an example of how relative dating works. Imagine that youre digging in deep snow. After you dig down about a foot, you find a newspaper. Removing the newspaper, you find an additional foot of snow before you encounter a branch on the frozen ground. Looking at these items and how they relate in time to one another, you can deduce that the ground was there first, then the branch fell on the ground, then it snowed, then the newspaper was dropped on the snow, then it snowed again. It seems logical that the branch was there longer than the newspaper. You might not know exactly when these events occurred, but you do know when the events occurred in relation to one another. Thats relative dating. Igneous events such as volcanic eruptions and igneous intrusions are records of the earths thermal history. Sedimentary rocks reveal the history of changing environments, the rise and fall of sea levels, climatic changes, sedimentological changes, and the evolution of life. Similarly, metamorphic rocks record metamorphic events, such as the collision of plates and the subsequent formation of mountain belts.

Lab objective
In this lab, you will become familiar with the principles used to determine the chronological sequence of geologic events and, subsequently, the relative ages of rocks.

Getting started
Read about the principles of relative dating before answering the questions in this exercise.

Principles of Relative Dating

There are two concepts of time: relative time and absolute time. Relative time is the determination of the chronology (order) of a sequence of events. Relative dating is based largely on logical deductions gathered from physical evidence. Because relative dating is not as exact as absolute dating, days, months, and years are not specifically determined. Conversely, absolute time assigns a specific interval of time in units of hours, days, years, centuries, or millennia (or larger!) to an event. Several scientific processes can be used to determine a specimens absolute time. One of the most popular processes is called radiometric dating, which examines the decay of radioactive atoms. Carbon dating is an example of a radiometric dating process.

When using relative dating, use the following relative dating principles in determining the chronology of events and thus the relative time of each event in a sequence: The Law of Superposition In a sequence of undeformed beds, the youngest beds are on top and the oldest beds are on the bottom. The Law of Faunal Succession Animals or plant fossils occur in a definite order. Fossils contained within a rock reveal the period of geologic time of the rock (e.g., younger rocks have younger fossils). The Law of Crosscutting Relationships (aka the Law of Intrusions) Intrusions, unconformities (see definition below), and faults are younger than the rocks that they cut across. The Law of Inclusions Fragments of rocks included or incorporated into another body of rock are older than the host rock.

In geologic history, rocks represent time. Unconformities are losses in the representation of time. These losses in the representation of time could be the result of either erosion, which cuts away a part of existing deposits, or non-deposition. Both are causes of interruptions in local sequences of rocks. There are three types of unconformities: disconformities, nonconformities, and angular unconformities. A disconformity is a surface area of erosion or non-deposition between parallel depositional beds of older and younger age. A nonconformity is an eroded surface of igneous or metamorphic rock that is covered by parallel beds of sedimentary rock. An eroded surface that interrupts a layer or layers of tilted bedding and underlies a younger, parallel layer of bedding is an angular unconformity.

Geologic time scales

On the next page you will find a simplified version of the geologic time scale. This scale represents absolute time. Scientists have established absolute time on this scale by observing the evolution of fossils in the geologic recordusing radiometric dating to determine their exact time of occurrence. Use this scale along with the laws of relative dating given above when working through your lab exercise.

Table 5-1: Geologic Time Scale

Eon Era Period Epoch Holocene Cenozoic Era Quaternary Pleistocene 2 Pliocene Tertiary Neogene Miocene
Oligocene Eocene

Millions of years

5 24 37 58 66 144 208

Paleogene Phanerozoic Eon Cretaceous Mesozoic Era Jurassic Triassic


245 Permian 286 Carboniferous Paleozoic Era Pennsylvanian 320 Mississippian

Devonian Silurian Ordovician Cambrian

360 408 438 505 570

Archean Proterozoic Eon Eon

Precambrian Era

Late 900 Middle 1600 E Early a

Late Ear Middle Early

2500 3000 3400 3800 Earths origin ~4.6 billion years

Hadean Eon

No record

Note: the numbers correspond to the lines between the geologic time periods. They indicate the end of one period and the beginning of the next period.

Lab VExercise
This is a three-step exercise. For Step 1, you will determine the age relationships, the chronology, and the identities of some different events that are represented in the corresponding figures. For Step 2, you will determine the order and type of events, but you will be looking at a more complex cross-sectional diagram of the Grand Canyon. For Step 3, you will make the same type of determinations for a hypothetical geologic cross-section and give explanations for your answers where indicated.

Step 1: Answer the following questions about the accompanying figures.

Age relationships by cross-cutting or intrusion Figure 5-1 Figure 5-2 Figure 5-3



Use the figures above, which are all cross sectional views, to answer the following three questions: 1. In Figure 5-1, which is older, the basalt or the diorite? 2. In Figure 5-2, G is granite; X, Y, and Z are dikes. Using the letters G, X, Y, and Z, give the chronology of each intrusion from the oldest to the youngest.

3. A 25 million-year-old dike cuts the shale and the sandstone in Figure 5-3. Using the principles of relative dating, determine which one is older (the sandstone or the shale).

Age Relationships by Inclusions Figure 5-4 Figure 5-5 Figure 5-6

Use the figures provided above and the principles of relative dating to answer the following three questions: 4. In Figure 5-4, which is olderthe granite or the shale? 5. In Figure 5-5, which is olderthe limestone or the shale? 6. In Figure 5-6, which is olderthe granite or the rhyolite?

Unconformities and Chronology of Events Figure 5-7 Figure 5-8 Figure 5-9

Use the above figures and the principles of relative dating to answer the following questions: 7. Using Figure 5-7, name the type of unconformity that is represented. 8. Using Figure 5-8, name the type of unconformity that is represented. 9. In Figure 5-8, do you think that the folding of these beds came before or after the unconformity? Why? 10. In Figure 5-9, did the fault and the dike occur before or after the unconformity?

Step 2: The cross-section below is from the Grand Canyon. Answer the questions about the geologic
history of the Grand Canyon for both sections A and B.

Figure 5-10: Cross-section from the Grand Canyon.


Colorado River

Vishnu Schist


Section A: Answer the following general questions about the Grand Canyon using Figure 5-10, Table 5-1,
and the principles of relative dating. 1. What type of unconformity is between the Vishnu Schist and the Grand Canyon Series? 2. What type of unconformity is between the Grand Canyon Series and the Cambrian? 3. Ordovician and Silurian rocks are missing from the Grand Canyon. An eroded and discontinuous layer of limestone represents Devonian (Temple Butte Limestone) rocks. What type of unconformity is between the Cambrian and the Devonian? (HINT: use the geologic time scale presented in this labs readings in conjunction with this diagram to estimate the unconformitys duration.)

Estimate its duration in millions of years: 4. Is the Zoroaster Granite younger than the Vishnu Schist? 6

Section B: After carefully studying the Grand Canyons beds, arrangeby numberthe following events in
their proper chronological order, from oldest (1) to youngest (15). ___Deposition of the Grand Canyon Series. ___Deposition of the Tapeats, Bright Angel, and Muav Formations. ___Erosion of the Grand Canyon by the Colorado River. ___Deposition of the Redwall Limestone ___Deposition of rocks that were metamorphosed to form the Vishnu Schist. ___Expansion of the sea to deposit the Kaibab Limestone. ___Mountain building and metamorphism to form the Vishnu Schist. ___Post-Redwall erosion. ___Tilting and faulting of the Grand Canyon Series. ___Erosion and exposure of the Vishnu Schist. ___Intrusion of the Zoroaster Granite. ___Deposition of the Supai Formation and the Hermit Shale. ___Expansion of a desert and the deposition of the Coconino Sandstone. ___Deposition of the Devonian, Temple Butte Limestone. ___Erosion and formation of the Great Precambrian-Cambrian unconformity.

Step 3: Answer the following questions using Figure 5-11 in conjunction with the principles of relative
dating and the geologic time scale.

Figure 5-11: Hypothetical Geologic Cross-section Diagram

* Note: The numbers are igneous intrusions NOT unconformities. 1. How many types of unconformities are there in the diagram? Clearly label each unconformity with its type and an arrow. What is the approximate duration in millions of years of the unconformity between the Cambrian and Mississippian beds?