The role of U-Pb ages of detrital zircons in sedimentology—An alarming case study for the impact of sampling for provenance interpretation

Udo Zimmermann*, Tom Andersen, Merete Vadla Madland, Ingrid Skipenes Larsen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


U-Pb ages on detrital zircons are often utilised for stratigraphic and paleogeographic interpretations and correlation. Sampling is carried out in such a way that the samples are representative for a formation, and then used for provenance identification and/or defining a maximum time limit for deposition. Is it possible that sedimentological factors and sampling would influence the results? This is perhaps an obvious consideration for sedimentologists, but is in many studies treated as a. secondary concern or even not mentioned.U-Pb LA-ICP-MS analysis on detrital zircons from two samples of Cambrian age (Herrería Formation, Cantabrian Mountains, Spain) revealed very different provenance signatures at the base and top of the formation. Both successions have been deposited in a shallow marine environment, are lithologically comparable (arenites, feldspathic arenites, siltstone, shales intercalated with marls and dolomite) and differ only slightly in age. Nearly 80% of all detrital zircons (n= 152; discordance. ≤ 10) at the base of the formation are younger than 650 Ma. Detrital zircons older than 1.0 Ga amount to only 10% (n= 16) of the entire population. In contrast, only around 32% of all detrital zircons from the top of the formation (n= 123; discordance ≤ 10) are younger than 650. Ma while more than 16% are Archean and nearly 50% Paleoproterozoic. This implies a fundamental change in provenance, with a shift from Neoproterozoic to Paleoproterozoic (1.9-2.2. Ga) aged sediment sources. Consequently, changes of sediment transport systems have had an extremely profound impact on the provenance of the formation. Therefore, when correlating sedimentary rocks, interpreting source rocks and modelling paleogeography from U-Pb ages of detrital zircons, sedimentological parameters are possibly paramount and these need to be at least discussed before any interpretation is made.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38-50
Number of pages13
JournalSedimentary Geology
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Detrital zircon
  • Isotope geochemistry
  • Provenance analysis
  • Sedimentology
  • Spain


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