New Techniques of LASS-ICPMS Depth Profiling Applied to Detrital Zircon from the Central Alps-Apennines System

Monday, 15 December 2014: 11:05 AM
Owen Anthony Anfinson, Andrew Smye and Daniel F Stockli, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, United States
Detrital zircon U-Pb age dating has become a widely used tool for determining sediment provenance in basins and orogenic systems. While traditional LA-ICPMS zircon geochronology is powerful, it has limitations when source regions are characterized by monotonous or non-diagnostic crystallization ages or by major sediment recycling and homogenization, leading to minimal zircon age variability. In the central Alps of Switzerland and Italy, for example, similar Cadomian, Caledonian, and Variscan zircons dominate with only minor Alpine ages. Samples collected from Oligocene-Miocene strata deposited in both the northern (Swiss Molasse) and southern (Apenninic foredeep) Alpine foreland basins document shifts in the relative abundance of Cadomian, Caledonian, Variscan and Alpine aged detrital zircon, but the exact source region and genesis of the grains remains poorly constrained based on zircon U-Pb age data alone. Laser Ablation Split Stream (LASS)-ICPMS depth profiling of detrital zircon allows for the simultaneous recovery of multiple ages and of chemical/petrogenetic data from single zircons, and has the potential to shed additional light on provenance. This study applies this approach to Oligocene-Miocene strata of the Swiss Molasse Basin and Apenninic foredeep.

Recent advances in LA-ICPMS sample cell technology allow for reliable recovery of age and trace element data during progressive ablation into zircons. Decreased washout (<.3 sec) reduces vertical signal smearing during ablation and penetration into unpolished, tape-mounted grains. In contrast to traditional polished mount zircon spot-analysis, depth-profiling of unpolished grains minimizes zonal mixing given that ablation pits are commonly oriented perpendicular to growth zones. Split-stream analysis of U-Pb isotopic data and REE/trace element abundances during ablation improves petrochronologic resolution to the further elucidated the growth history and genesis of individual zircon grains. Results from the Swiss Molasse Basin and the Apenninic foredeep indicate that shifts in relative abundance of U-Pb zircon ages are accompanied by variations in rim-core relationships and REE/trace element abundances from grains of the major orogenic cycles, further constraining the provenance of these strata.