Encyclopedia of Scientific Dating Methods

Living Edition
| Editors: W. Jack Rink, Jeroen Thompson

Luminescence, Volcanic Rocks

  • Sumiko TsukamotoEmail author
Living reference work entry

Later version available View entry history

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-6326-5_100-2


Luminescence dating methods are applicable to estimate ages of past volcanic eruptions using (1) volcanic phenocrysts (quartz and feldspar) and glass within volcanic rocks (including unconsolidated tephra) and (2) rock surfaces heated by lava- or pyroclastic flow. Unlike luminescence dating of light-exposed sediments, the luminescence clock is reset by heating or is naturally zero at the time of crystallization. Another resetting mechanism of temperature-assisted hydrostatic pressure by phreatic eruptions has been also proposed (Zöller et al. 2009).


Optically Stimulate Luminescence Pyroclastic Flow Volcanic Glass Fading Rate Phreatic Eruption 
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Luminescence dating methods are applicable to estimate ages of past volcanic eruptions using (1) volcanic phenocrysts (quartz and feldspar) and glass within volcanic rocks (including unconsolidated tephra) and (2) rock surfaces heated by lava- or pyroclastic flow. Unlike luminescence dating of light-exposed sediments, the luminescence clock is reset by heating or is naturally zero at the time of crystallization. Another resetting mechanism of temperature-assisted hydrostatic pressure by phreatic eruptions has been also proposed (Zöller et al. 2009).


The first attempt of luminescence dating of volcanic rocks has been done by Wintle (1973) using thermoluminescence (TL) of rhyolites and basalts containing plagioclase phenocrysts. She found, however, a significant signal loss in artificially irradiated samples after a storage, which is known as anomalous fading, leading to an age underestimation. Since then, luminescence dating studies using quartz, feldspar, and volcanic glass have been done both using TL and optically stimulated luminescence (OSL). A comprehensive review of luminescence dating of volcanic products was published by Fattahi and Stokes (2003).


Dating applications using quartz is possible for both quartz bearing tephra having rhyolitic composition and rocks heated by lava or pyroclastic flows. Quartz bearing tephras were dated initially by TL in the blue detection wavelength (e.g., Ichikawa et al. 1982; Takamiya and Nishimura 1986). Later, Hashimoto et al. (1986) found that volcanic quartz has a TL peak in the orange-red region (~620 nm) at around 380 °C. This peak has a higher saturation dose than that of the blue TL peak at ~470 nm (Hashimoto et al. 1987; Miallier et al. 1991). Since then, red TL has been used to date volcanic quartz successfully both using multiple-aliquot (e.g., Miallier et al. 1994; Pilleyre et al. 1992) and single-aliquot (e.g., Toyoda et al. 2006) approaches. The high saturation dose (characteristic saturation dose, D0 ~ 6,500 Gy) made it possible to date a tephra older than 1 Ma (Fattahi and Stokes 2000). However, the measurement of red TL needs a PM tube which is more sensitive to longer wavelength (trialkali or GaAs tubes), and the tube has to be cooled to reduce dark counts. A high blackbody radiation is also expected. In order to subtract the blackbody radiation more easily from the red TL signal, the use of isothermal TL, by keeping temperature the same for a prolonged time, has been proposed (Tsukamoto et al. 2007; Ganzawa and Maeda 2009). Dating of tephra using red TL has been also done using quartz single grains from tephra (Ganzawa and Ike 2011). OSL using single-aliquot regenerative dose (SAR) protocol has been tested for dating volcanic rocks (Bonde et al. 2001). However, OSL of volcanic quartz has been found to fade and has lower thermal stability than sedimentary quartz (Tsukamoto et al. 2007). But these problems do not exist in the case of quartz which originated from nonvolcanic bedrocks. OSL dating was successfully applied for samples from Eifel volcanic field, Germany, where high pressure shock waves during phreatic eruptions had probably reset the OSL signals (Preusser et al. 2011).


After the finding of anomalous fading by Wintle (1973), there have not been many studies on luminescence dating of volcanic feldspars until very recently, because of the difficulty in dealing with high fading rates. May (1977) investigated TL of plagioclase feldspars from alkali and tholeiitic basalts with known ages from Hawaii and found a correlation between normalized natural signal intensities and expected ages up to 200 ka, despite the presence of significant anomalous fading. Guérin and Valladas (1980) studied TL in the UV detection wavelength at high temperature (>580 °C) from volcanic plagioclase from France and concluded that the high temperature TL peak is not significantly affected by anomalous fading. TL from sanidine in the far-red region (~710 nm) was also found to be not affected by anomalous fading (Zink et al. 1995; Visocekas and Zink 1999). Recently, the possibility of luminescence dating on the Martian surface has been suggested (McKeever et al. 2003), and since then a growing number of studies have been published (e.g., Kalchgruber et al. 2006; Jain et al. 2006). Morthekai et al. (2008) and Tsukamoto and Duller (2008) compared fading rates of various luminescence signals from Martian analog materials on Earth. While Morthekai et al. (2008) obtained the lowest fading rate from red TL (630–670 nm) signal from andesite and basalt samples, Tsukamoto and Duller (2008) reported relatively uniform fading rates of 5–7 %/decade from IRSL signal at 200 °C from basalts in the blue detection wavelength. Following this, Tsukamoto et al. (2010, 2011) dated andesitic tephra and basalts using IRSL at 200 °C and obtained consistent ages with independent age controls up to ~70 ka. Scoria samples from Vesuvius containing leucite and sanidine have been dated using post-IR IRSL method (Tsukamoto et al. submitted), which has been developed to minimize anomalous fading (Thomsen et al. 2008). The fading rate was successfully reduced from ~30 % to less than 5 % by increasing both preheat and post-IR stimulation temperatures, and the ages after fading correction agreed with known eruption ages of Vesuvius (Tsukamoto et al. submitted).

Volcanic Glass

TL dating of volcanic glass has been first reported by Berger and Huntley (1983) using 2–11 μm fraction of glass. Fine grain volcanic glass was selected, because it was homogeneous and was certain that it originated primarily from the eruption (without lithic fragments). This work was followed by Berger (1985, 1992) who dated volcanic ashes between 8 and 400 ka using TL in blue-green detection wavelength using multiple-aliquot additive dose technique. TL spectra were measured from volcanic glass from tephra in Japan by Kanemaki et al. (1991). They found that the TL spectra from volcanic glass are similar to those of quartz and plagioclase phenocrysts, and therefore the TL from volcanic glass originates from quartz and/or plagioclase microcrystals in the glass. Optical dating of volcanic glass has been tested by Berger and Huntley (1994). The OSL and IRSL signals from volcanic glass from 15 samples are generally dim, and they concluded that the optical dating of volcanic glass is only occasionally feasible. However, Biswas et al. (2013) used fine grain volcanic ashes (4–11 μm) which are presumably dominated by volcanic glass and applied post-IR IRSL protocol. The intensity of post-IR IRSL signal was much larger than IRSL at 50 °C and it showed negligible anomalous fading.


Red TL dating using volcanic quartz has been proven to be a powerful dating technique to date rhyolitic tephra. Different measurements methods (red TL, UV-TL, and IRSL) have been suggested to be useful in dating volcanic feldspars. Since the post-IR IRSL technique has been successfully applied in dating sedimentary feldspar without a fading correction, this method should be tested more for volcanic feldspars. Volcanic glass has a problem of low luminescence sensitivity, but the post-IR IRSL is helpful in both reducing anomalous fading and increasing luminescence intensity.



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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Leibniz Institute for Applied Geophysics (LIAG)HannoverGermany