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INTRODUCTION — A BIT OF HISTORY
The aim of this chapter is to present the K-Ar and Ar-Ar dating techniques in the context of noble gas studies, since there are already several recent texts on K-Ar and Ar-Ar dating (Dickin 1995; McDougall and Harrison 1999). The focus of this section will be aspects of argon transport and storage in the crust, which affect K-Ar and Ar-Ar dating including Ar-loss from minerals by diffusion and Ar-gain by minerals or “excess argon.”
The K-Ar dating technique was one of the earliest isotope dating techniques, developed soon after the discovery of radioactive potassium, and provided an important adjunct to U-Pb and U-He dating techniques. The ease of measurement and ideal half-life (1250 million years; see Table 2⇓ below), for dating geological events has made this the most popular of isotopic dating techniques. Aldrich and Nier (1948) first demonstrated that 40Ar was the product of the decay of 40K, and soon after K-Ar ages were being measured in several laboratories most often using an absolute method such as a McLeod gauge to measure argon concentrations. The first published K-Ar results by such a technique were those of Smits and Gentner (1950) who analyzed sylvite from the Buggingen Oligocene evaporite deposits, obtaining an age of 20 million years. Mass spectrometers, which simultaneously measured very small amounts of gas, and the isotope ratios necessary to make corrections for atmospheric contamination, quickly replaced manometric techniques. Crucially the use of static vacuum techniques, pioneered by John Reynolds at the University of California-Berkeley, meant that mass spectrometers were sufficiently sensitive to analyse the small amounts of gas released from common rocks and minerals.
Although the earliest mass spectrometers were built ‘in house’, the introduction of the commercially available MS10 (Farrar et al. 1964), a small 180° metal mass spectrometer built for …