Detrital Dating: A Powerful Approach to Resolve Tectonics and Erosion

Title: Detrital Dating: A Powerful Approach to Resolve Tectonics and Erosion
Author: Barbara Carrapa, Dept. of Geosciences, University of Arizona, Tucson
Publication: The Outcrop, November 2010, p. 8-11


The application of geochronological and thermochronological techniques, such as U-Pb, 40Ar/39Ar and fission track, to detrital minerals (i.e. detrital geo- thermo- chronology) such as zircon, white mica, and apatite has revolutionized the field of provenance studies in recent years (e.g. Copeland and Harrison, 1990; Najman et al., 1997; Sobel and Dumitru, 1997; Garver et al., 1999; Von Eynatten et al., 1999; Najman et al., 2005; Carrapa et al., 2004; Coutand et al., 2006; Dickinson and Gehrels, 2010). Whereas when geo- thermochronology is applied to basement rocks within the hinterland (in-situ; Fig. 1) it can provide very detailed information about one specific location, detrital geo- thermochronology provides information about an entire drainage area and possibly orogenic system (Fig. 1).

In particular, detrital geo-thermochronology is able to determine paleodrainage evolution, source unroofing history, geomorphological evolution, and maximum sediment depositional age (e.g. Pazzaglia and Kelley, 1998; Najman et el., 2001; Spiegel et al., 2001; White et al., 2002). Furthermore, lag time trends have been used to interpret different stages of orogenic evolution (e.g. Bernetet al., 2001; Cerrapa etal., 2003, 2009). The main assumptions when applying and interpreting detrital geo-thermochronological data are: i) different sources are characterized by different ages that are recorded in the sedimentary record as different age spectra; and ii) the temperature (T) experienced by the dated minerals after deposition was never higher than the closure T of the utilized thermochronometers (i.e. < ~350oC for white mica 40Ar/39Ar and < ~110oC for apatite fission track; e.g., McDougall and Harrison, 1999; Gallagher, 1998). This implies that the age of the analyzed detrital mineral (detrital age) cannot be younger than the depositional age of the hosting strata and therefore provides a maximum age of deposition (e.g. Najman et al., 2001; DeCelles et al., 2007) (Fig. 1). When instead, burial T exceeds the closure T (or T-window) of the chosen thermochronometer, the ages recorded by the detrital sample provide information on the sedimentary basin thermal history. Although this adds complications, it can be advantageous when trying to resolve complex basin thermal history especially when using fission track in conjunction with vitrinite reflectance (e.g. Kelley and Blackwell, 1990), thermal modeling and (U-Th)/He data (e.g., Farley et al., 1996; Duddy, 1997). Following the same logic, apatite (U-Th)/He thermochronology can be applied to material preserved in deeply buried sedimentary strata that have experienced T high enough to fully reset the system (i.e > ca. 80oC; Farley, 2000). These reset ages may record the timing of erosion of the sedimentary basin after deposition, and can thus be used to resolve the timing of foreland basin deformation (e.g. Bertotti et al., 2005).

A novel approach in detrital geo- thermochronology is the application of multiple dating techniques to the same detrital mineral (e.g. apatite or zircon). Double and triple dating of zircon and apatite provide very useful information on the nature and crystallization age of the source and its erosion history as well as the thermal history of the sedimentary basin (e.g., Carter and Moss, 1999; Reiners et al., 2005; Bernet et al., 2006; Carrapa et al., 2009). This approach has the unique advantage to provide a variety of thermal information about individual mineral grains, removing one level of uncertainty, which is the type of source for different mineral phases. The future of thermochronology and geochronology resides in the routine application of multi-dating techniques to single and multiple mineral phases combined with geochemical analyses (e.g. Morton and Yaxley, 2007; Flowerdew et al., 2007; Morton and Chenery, 2009) that can extract a variety of information from the detrital record and help resolve tectonics-erosion interactions.


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