Rubidium-Strontium datingThe Rubidum-Strontium dating method, is one of the ways that geologists determine the age of rocks.
The utility of the rubidium-strontium isotope system results from the fact that different minerals in a given geologic setting can have distinctly different 87Sr/86Sr as a consequence of different ages, original Rb/Sr values and the initial 87Sr/86Sr. For example, consider the case of a simple igneous rock such as a granite that contains several major Sr-bearing minerals including plagioclase feldspar, K-feldspar, hornblende, biotite, and muscovite. If these minerals crystallized from the same silicic melt, each mineral had the same initial 87Sr/86Sr as the parent melt. However, because Rb substitutes for K in minerals and these minerals have different /Ca ratios, the minerals will have had different Rb/Sr ratios.
During fractional crystallization, Sr tends to be come concentrated in plagioclase, leaving Rb in the liquid phase. Hence, the Rb/Sr ratio in residual magma may increase over time, resulting in rocks with increasing Rb/Sr ratios with increasing differentiation. Highest ratios (10 or higher) occur in pegmatites. Typically, Rb/Sr increases in the order plagioclase, hornblende, K-feldspar, biotite, muscovite. Therefore, given sufficient time for significant production (ingrowth) of radiogenic 87Sr, measured 87Sr/86Sr values will be different in the minerals, increasing in the same order. The Rb-Sr dating method has been used extensively in dating rocks. If the initial amount of Sr is known or can be extrapolated, the age can be determined by measurement of the Rb and Sr concentrations and the 87Sr/86Sr ratio. The dates indicate the true age of the minerals only if the rocks have not been subsequently altered.
The important concept for isotopic tracing is that Sr derived from any mineral through weathering reactions will have the same 87Sr/86Sr as the mineral.
Adapted from a public domain USGS webpage. Modify as necessary.