The precision, meaning, and accuracy of the fission track (ft) dating method are reviewed from an examination of the recent literature as well as previously unpublished data from the author's laboratory.
It is concluded that forapparentft ages (i.e. ages derived from the canonical age equation) a precision (2σ level) of the order of ±4% to ±5% can be reached provided that (i) uranium is sufficiently homogeneously distributed in the dated samples, at least locally; and (ii) a large enough number of tracks can be counted.
Modelft ages,i.e. ages, for which partial geological track annealing is taken into account, have variable degrees of precision. While model ages obtained with the track-size method seem, as evaluated from the literature, to have usually a limited precision of the order of ±30% (2σ), plateau ages usually have a precision better than ±5% at a 2σ confidence level. Because it provides an objective test on the accuracy of track identification, as well as some insight of the variability of closing temperatures between various samples of a given mineral phase, the Isochronal Plateau (icp) method, when applicable, will be preferred (Poupeauet al 1980a). However, for phases which could be damaged by heating at relatively high temperatures, as for example hydrated glass shards from tephra, an Isothermal Plateau (itp) approach is to be preferred.
Due to uncertainties about the value of the238U spontaneous fission decay constant λƒ, as well as difficulties inherent in the dosimetry of thermal neutrons in nuclear reactors, theft method of dating is not an independent one. Presently, it relies on the existence of geological standards (volcanic rocks) of known age, allowing, to determine anoperational ‘λƒ’ value (Naeseret al 1980). Accordingly, the accuracy of anft age is limited by the accuracy on the age of the standard. It should be better than ≈5%.
For volcanic, hypovolcanic rocks, and shallow intrusives, theft method dates the time of formation, provided they were not further reheated. More generally, the track method providescooling ages. Closing temperatures calculated from laboratory experiments vary from ≲300°C to 100°C, according to minerals, for slow cooling rates (≈1°C/m.y.). For apatites, recent geological calibrations (Naeseret al 1980; Gleadow and Duddy 1980) confirmed laboratory extrapolations. The association of theft method with other geochronometers is therefore critical to the study of the cooling history of old cratons as well as to the evaluation of uplift/erosion rates in recent belts.