, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 198-205
Date: 26 May 2010

How Old is Earth, and How Do We Know?


Earth scientists have devised many complementary and consistent techniques to estimate the ages of geologic events. Annually deposited layers of sediments or ice document hundreds of thousands of years of continuous Earth history. Gradual rates of mountain building, erosion of mountains, and the motions of tectonic plates imply hundreds of millions of years of change. Radiometric dating, which relies on the predictable decay of radioactive isotopes of carbon, uranium, potassium, and other elements, provides accurate age estimates for events back to the formation of Earth more than 4.5 billion years ago. These and other dating techniques are mutually consistent and underscore the reality of “deep time” in Earth history.

Portions of this article have been adapted from Hazen and Trefil (2009) and Trefil and Hazen (2010).