2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 11
Presentation Time: 6:00 PM-8:00 PM


MENKING, Kirsten M., Department of Geology and Geography, Vassar College, 124 Raymond Avenue, VC Box 59, Poughkeepsie, NY 12604-0059, kimenking@vassar.edu

U-series dating techniques are widely used to determine the absolute ages of some of Earth's oldest rocks, but the concordia/discordia diagram can be quite difficult for students to grasp. In particular, the fact that differing amounts of lead and uranium loss from minerals such as zircon can be used to determine not only the original formation age, but also the time of metamorphism of a rock like granite, is a challenging concept. Making use of previous workers' web-published exercises on radiometric decay, I have produced a STELLA-based lab exercise to develop students' understanding of this important chronologic technique. Students create models of the two isotopic decay systems, U-238 --> Pb-206 and U-235 --> Pb-207, and run these models for 4.5 billion years to create the concordia diagram. They then carry out experiments in which they “remove” varying amounts of either lead or uranium in simulation of metamorphism. The uranium-lead ratios at the end of the simulation allow the discordia line to be plotted on top of the concordia diagram and the ages of original crystallization and metamorphism to be determined from the points of intersection of the two lines. In the course of the lab, students are introduced to the concepts of exponential decay and secular equilibrium as well as modeling concepts such as the creation of if-then statements.