Provenance Analysis of Detrital Grains
A number of datable minerals occur as common detrital grains in sandstones, and if the strata have not been buried too deeply, these minerals grains retain information about the source rock. Fission track analysis of these minerals provides information about the thermal evolution of the source rocks and therefore can be used to understand provenance and the evolution of mountain belts that shed the sediment. This technique of detrital analysis is most commonly applied to zircon because it is very common and robust in the sedimentary system, and in addition it has a relatively high annealing temperature so that in many sedimentary basins the crystals are not reset by later heating.
Fission-track dating of detrital zircon is a widely applied analytical tool used to understand the tectonic evolution of source terrains that have left a long and continuous erosional record in adjacent basin strata. Early studies focused on using the cooling ages in detrital zircon from stratigraphic sequences to document the timing and rate of erosion of rocks in adjacent orogenic belts (mountain ranges). A number of recent studies have combined U/Pb and/or Helium dating (U+Th/He) on single crystals to document the specific history of individual crystals. This double-dating approach is an extremely powerful provenance tool because a nearly complete crystal history can be obtained, and therefore researchers can pinpoint specific source areas with distinct geologic histories with relative certainty. Fission-track ages on detrital zircon can be as young as 1 Ma to as old as 2000 Ma.
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