Dating by cosmogenic nuclides
Geography and Geology
Encyclopedia of Geology, 2nd Edition
Since the 1990s, cosmogenic nuclides have revolutionized the study of Earth surface processes, particularly the understanding of rates and dates. These nuclides, including 3He, 10Be, 14C, 21Ne, 26Al, and 36Cl, enable dating of landforms and the measurement of erosion rates both at the scale of drainage basins and at specific locations on Earth's surface. Cosmogenic nuclides are produced at low rates (several to hundreds of atoms per gram per year) by the interaction of cosmic rays with elements both in the atmosphere and in surficial materials, including in rock and soil. Measuring nuclide concentrations requires elemental separation from source geologic material followed by counting of atoms using sensitive accelerator mass spectrometers. Because nuclide production rates have been quantified, the measured concentration of these nuclides can be interpreted as a near-surface residence time. Here, we review the systematics of commonly used cosmogenic nuclides, describe how they are extracted and measured, and then present case studies focusing on the most commonly measured cosmogenic nuclide, 10Be. We present common applications such as dating surface features, including moraines and outcrops shaped by glaciation, the use of cosmogenic nuclides for inferring tectonic and erosion processes in drainage basins, and the use of these nuclides to trace sediment sources in drainage basins. When multiple nuclides are measured in one sample, they can be used to model burial and exposure histories in stratigraphic sections. We conclude by exploring what the future might bring in terms of measurements and applications.
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Bierman, P. R., Bender, A. M., Christ, A. J., Corbett, L. B., Halsted, C. T., Portenga, E. W., & Schmidt, A. H. (2021). Dating by cosmogenic nuclides. In S. A. Elias & D. H. M. Alderton (Eds.), Encyclopedia of geology (2nd ed., pp. 101–115). Elsevier. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-08-102908-4.00124-7