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Uranium, on the other hand, is so well studied that its decay constant is much better known, making the U/Pb dating technique more accurate, Mundil noted.

U/Pb dating relies upon the decay of naturally occurring uranium and different isotopes of lead."Further application of Mundil's approach will make the geologic time scale more accurate, letting us calibrate extinctions and important events in Earth's history, ranging from 100 million to several billion years ago, with unparalleled accuracy," Renne added.

"Zircons have produced complicated data that are hard to interpret, though people have pulled dates out," said Mundil, a former UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow now at the BGC, a non-profit scientific research institute dedicated to perfecting dating techniques for establishing the history of Earth and life on Earth.

"Many of these studies will now have to be redone." The U/Pb isotopic dating technique has been critical in dating geologic events more than 100 million years old, including volcanic eruptions, continental movements and mass extinctions."The beauty of this new technique is that we now can analyze samples we previously could not get an accurate date for," Mundil said.

Uranium-lead dating is usually performed on the mineral zircon (Zr Si O), though it can be used on other minerals.

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These minerals often produce lower precision ages than igneous and metamorphic minerals traditionally used for age dating, but are more common in the geologic record.

The new U/Pb date, though about 2.5 million years older than Renne reported nine years ago based on Ar/Ar dating, nevertheless confirms his conclusion that the Permian extinction occurred at the same time as a major series of volcanic eruptions in Siberia.

This is strong evidence that these eruptions caused, at least in part, the global die-off, which some scientists have ascribed to a meteor impact.

Therefore, we can assume that the entire lead content of the zircon is radiogenic.

Where this is not the case, a correction must be applied.

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