- © The Mineralogical Society Of America
1. NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN U-SERIES GEOCHEMISTRY
During the last century, the Earth Sciences underwent two major revolutions in understanding. The first was the recognition of the great antiquity of the Earth and the second was the development of plate tectonic theory. These leaps in knowledge moved geology from its largely descriptive origins and established the modern, quantitative, Earth Sciences. For any science, and particularly for the Earth Sciences, time scales are of central importance. Until recently, however, the study of time scales in the Earth Sciences was largely restricted to the unraveling of the ancient history of our planet. For several decades, Earth scientists have used a variety of isotope chronometers to unravel the long-term evolution of the planet. A fuller understanding of the physical and chemical processes driving this evolution often remained elusive because such processes occur on time scales (1–105 years) which are simply not resolvable by most conventional chronometers. The U-series isotopes, however, do provide tools with sufficient time resolution to study these Earth processes. During the last decade, the Earth Sciences have become increasingly focused on fundamental processes and U-series geochemistry has witnessed a renaissance, with widespread application in disciplines as diverse as modern oceanography and igneous petrology.
The uranium and thorium decay-series contain radioactive isotopes of many elements (in particular, U, Th, Pa, Ra and Rn). The varied geochemical properties of these elements cause nuclides within the chain to be fractionated in different geological environments. while the varied half-lives of the nuclides allows investigation of processes occurring on time scales from days to 105 years. U-series measurements have therefore revolutionized the Earth Sciences by offering some of the only quantitative constraints on time scales applicable to the physical processes that take place on the Earth.
The application of U-series geochemistry to the Earth Sciences was thoroughly summarized in 1982 …