Sediment residence times constrained by uranium-series isotopes: A critical appraisal of the comminution approach

Heather K. Handley*, Simon Turner, Juan C. Afonso, Anthony Dosseto, Tim Cohen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


Quantifying the rates of landscape evolution in response to climate change is inhibited by the difficulty of dating the formation of continental detrital sediments. We present uranium isotope data for Cooper Creek palaeochannel sediments from the Lake Eyre Basin in semi-arid South Australia in order to attempt to determine the formation ages and hence residence times of the sediments. To calculate the amount of recoil loss of 234U, a key input parameter used in the comminution approach, we use two suggested methods (weighted geometric and surface area measurement with an incorporated fractal correction) and typical assumed input parameter values found in the literature. The calculated recoil loss factors and comminution ages are highly dependent on the method of recoil loss factor determination used and the chosen assumptions. To appraise the ramifications of the assumptions inherent in the comminution age approach and determine individual and combined comminution age uncertainties associated to each variable, Monte Carlo simulations were conducted for a synthetic sediment sample. Using a reasonable associated uncertainty for each input factor and including variations in the source rock and measured (234U/238U) ratios, the total combined uncertainty on comminution age in our simulation (for both methods of recoil loss factor estimation) can amount to ±220-280ka. The modelling shows that small changes in assumed input values translate into large effects on absolute comminution age. To improve the accuracy of the technique and provide meaningful absolute comminution ages, much tighter constraints are required on the assumptions for input factors such as the fraction of α-recoil lost 234Th and the initial (234U/238U) ratio of the source material. In order to be able to directly compare calculated comminution ages produced by different research groups, the standardisation of pre-treatment procedures, recoil loss factor estimation and assumed input parameter values is required. We suggest a set of input parameter values for such a purpose. Additional considerations for calculating comminution ages of sediments deposited within large, semi-arid drainage basins are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)245-262
Number of pages18
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2013


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