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Using this established record, geologists have been able to piece together events over the past 635 million years, or about one-eighth of Earth history, during which time useful fossils have been abundant.The need to correlate over the rest of geologic time, to correlate nonfossiliferous units, and to calibrate the fossil time scale has led to the development of a specialized field that makes use of natural radioactive isotopes in order to calculate absolute isotopes has been improved to the point that for rocks 3 billion years old geologically meaningful errors of less than ±1 million years can be obtained.The same margin of error applies for younger fossiliferous rocks, making absolute dating comparable in precision to that attained using fossils.To achieve this precision, geochronologists have had to develop the ability to isolate certain high-quality minerals that can be shown to have remained closed to migration of the radioactive parent atoms they contain and the daughter atoms formed by radioactive decay over billions of years of geologic time.
In the oceans, new seafloor, created at the globe-circling oceanic ridges, moves away, cools, and sinks back into the mantle in what are known as subduction zones (i.e., long, narrow belts at which one plate descends beneath another).
In the ideal case, the geologist will discover a single rock unit with a unique collection of easily observed attributes called a marker horizon that can be found at widely spaced localities.
Any feature, including colour variations, textures, fossil content, mineralogy, or any unusual combinations of these can be used.
Similarly, in geology, if distinctive granitic pebbles can be found in the sediment beside a similar granitic body, it can be inferred that the granite, after cooling, had been uplifted and eroded and therefore was not injected into the adjacent rock sequence.
Although with clever detective work many complex time sequences or relative ages can be deduced, the ability to show that objects at two separated sites were formed at the same time requires additional information.Where this occurs at the edge of a continent, as along the west coast of North and South America, large mountain chains develop with abundant volcanoes and their subvolcanic equivalents.