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GEOS638 Radiogenic Isotope Geochemistry

Course Outcomes:

  1. Be able to describe the fundamental concepts of isotope geochemistry, and their application to understanding the origin, composition, and evolution of the Earth, and how the Earth system responds to internal and external forces.
  2. Be able to apply physics, chemistry, and mathematics to understand geological processes.
  3. Be able to apply geochemical knowledge and critical thinking skills to address a range of problems in isotope geology and geochemistry.
  4. Utilize computers and software to solve problems in the fields of isotope geology and geochemistry.
  5. Be familiar with sources of scientific information and be able to utilize scientific literature in isotope geology and geochemistry.

This course is designed to be a survey of the field of radiogenic isotope geochemistry and its application to the study of Earth materials and processes.  The focus will be on the major long-lived radioactive decay schemes (e.g. K-Ar, Rb-Sr, Sm-Nd, Lu-Hf, Re-Os, U-Th-Pb), as well as cosmogenic and U-series nuclides, their systematics and application.  We will investigate topics which utilize radiogenic isotope systems as both tracers and/or chronometers, including: the formation and chemical differentiation of the Earth; igneous petrology and the chemical geodynamics of the solid Earth; metamorphism and orogenesis; the isotope composition of continental waters and oceans; isotopic constraints on the stratigraphic record including geochronology and chemostratigraphy; geochemical cycling.

Course Assessment:

  • problem sets & assignments – 50%
  • mid-term exam – 20%
  • final exam – 20%
  • class discussion & participation – 10%

Problem Sets and Assignments: Due for full credit one week after assignment.

Required Text (available in Bookstore)

Faure, G. and Mensing, T.M., Isotopes: Principles and Applications, 3rd ed., Wiley, 2006.

Supplementary Text (available in Albertson Library)

Dickin, A.P., Radiogenic Isotope Geology, 2nd ed., Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Heaman, L.M., and Ludden, J.L. (eds.) Applications of radiogenic isotope systems to problems in geology; Short course handbook v. 19, Mineralogical Association of Canada, 1991.

Valley, J.W., and Cole, D.R. (eds.) Stable Isotope Geochemistry, Reviews in Mineralogy and Geochemistry, v. 43, Mineralogical Society of America, 2001.

Hanchar, J.M., Hoskin, P.W.O. (eds.) Zircon, Reviews in Mineralogy and Geochemistry, v. 53, Mineralogical Society of America, 2003.

McDougall, I., Harrison, T.M., Geochronology and thermochronology by the 40Ar/39Ar method, Oxford University Press, 1999.

Course Schedule

Week 1: Nuclear Systematics & Trace Element Geochemistry (Faure Ch. 1; Dickin Ch. 1; Supplements)

Week 2: Law of Radioactive Decay (Faure Ch. 2-3; Dickin Ch. 1)

Week 3: Geochronology, Model Ages and Isochrons (Faure Ch. 4,6; Dickin Ch. 5)

Week 4: Mass Spectrometry (Dickin Ch. 2)

Week 5: U-Th-Pb Zircon Geochronology (Faure Ch. 10-11; Dickin Ch. 5; Hanchar and Hoskin)

Week 6: 40Ar/39Ar Geochronology (Faure Ch. 6-7; Dickin Ch. 10; McDougall&Harrison Ch. 2-4)

Week 7: Geochemical Statistics I: Parametric Statistics and Error Propagation (Dickin Ch. 2; Supplements)

Week 8: Geochemical Statistics II: Linear Regression and Non-Parametric Methods (Dickin Ch. 2; Supplements)

Week 9: Mid-Term Exam 10/18; (Faure Ch. 8; Dickin Ch. 3)

Week 10:  Spring Break (No Classes)

Week 11: 87Rb-87Sr, 147Sm-143Nd & 176Lu-176Hf Decay (Faure Ch. 5,9,12; Dickin Ch. 4,9)

Week 12: Sr-Nd-Hf-Pb Isotopes in the Crust & Mantle (Faure Ch. 16,17; Dickin Ch. 6,7)

Week 13: 187Re-187Os Decay and the Lithospheric Mantle (Dickin Ch. 8; Faure Ch. 13)

Week 14: Sr-Nd-Hf-Pb Isotopes in the Hydrosphere (Faure Ch. 18,19; Dickin Ch. 3,4)

Week 15: Cosmogenic Isotopes: Atmospheric, Hydrologic and In Situ (Faure Ch. 21,23; White Ch. 12-13)

Week 16: U-Series Geochemistry (Faure Ch. 20; Dickin Ch. 13)