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Bayesian estimation of isotopic age differences

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Isotopic dating is subject to uncertainties arising from counting statistics and experimental errors. These uncertainties are additive when an isotopic age difference is calculated. If large, they can lead to no significant age difference by “classical” statistics. In many cases, relative ages are known because of stratigraphic order or other clues. Such information can be used to establish a Bayes estimate of age difference which will include prior knowledge of age order. Age measurement errors are assumed to be log-normal and a noninformative but constrained bivariate prior for two true ages in known order is adopted. True-age ratio is distributed as a truncated log-normal variate. Its expected value gives an age-ratio estimate, and its variance provides credible intervals. Bayesian estimates of ages are different and in correct order even if measured ages are identical or reversed in order. For example, age measurements on two samples might both yield 100 ka with coefficients of variation of 0.2. Bayesian estimates are 22.7 ka for age difference with a 75% credible interval of [4.4, 43.7] ka.

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Curl, R.L. Bayesian estimation of isotopic age differences. Math Geol 20, 693–698 (1988). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00890585

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Key words

  • Bayes estimate
  • dating
  • credible interval
  • stalagmite
  • log-normal