- © The Mineralogical Society Of America
In one form or another, geochronologists have been practicing thermochronology1, the use of radioisotopic dating to constrain thermal histories of rocks and minerals, for over 40 years. Building from lessons learned over these four decades, thermochronology continues to evolve due to technical developments, increasingly sophisticated theoretical models, and an expanding range of applications in geologic and planetary science. Most recently, interest in earth-surface processes and interactions between tectonics, erosion, and climate has drawn attention to techniques that can address the timing and rates of processes operating at temperatures below about 300 °C.
The purpose of this RiMG volume is to assess the current state of thermochronology, as of circa 2005, which is, coincidentally, the 100th anniversary of the first radioisotopic date (Rutherford 1905; 1906). Excellent review papers and books on specific topics within this field have been published, but no single volume has yet provided a comprehensive review of current practices, basic theory, and illustrative examples. The motivation for this volume stems from these considerations. Knowing that in a fast-developing field a book like this can quickly become dated, we tried to include sufficient review of fundamentals and the literature to offer students and new users a useful introduction to thermochronology that may have some staying power.
In this chapter, we first review the salient points of thermochronology’s history before assessing our current capabilities and challenges and then taking the risk of suggesting where the field is headed. We do not provide a comprehensive history of the method that does full justice to the work of the large and growing cohort of thermochronologists. In this short space, we instead opted to give our perspectives on where the intellectual and technological roots of the discipline lie, which run deeper and go back farther than is sometimes appreciated. …