Combined single-grain (U-Th)/He and U/Pb dating of detrital zircons from the Navajo Sandstone, Utah

Jeffrey M. Rahl, Peter W. Reiners, Ian H. Campbell, Stefan Nicolescu, Charlotte M. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

134 Scopus citations


Radioisotopic dating of detrital minerals in sedimentary rocks can constrain sediment sources (provenance), elucidate episodes and rates of ancient orogenesis, and give information on paleogeography and sediment-dispersal patterns. Previous approaches have been restricted to the application of a single technique, such as U/Pb or fission-track dating, to detrital grains. These methods provide crystallization and cooling ages, respectively, of sediment sources (terranes). However, evidence for source regions from a single technique can be ambiguous because candidate source terranes often have similar ages for a given radioisotopic system. This ambiguity can be avoided by applying multiple radioisotopic systems to individual detrital grains. Here we present a method for measuring both (U-Th)/He and U/Pb ages of single crystals of detrital zircon, providing both formation and cooling ages (through ∼ 180 °C). We applied this technique to zircons from the Lower Jurassic Navajo Sandstone, which represents one of the largest erg deposits in the geologic record. A large fraction of these zircons was derived from crust that formed between 1200 and 950 Ma, but cooled below ∼ 180 °C ca. 500-250 Ma. This history is characteristic of Grenvillian-age crust involved in Appalachian orogenesis (and subsequent rifting) in eastern North America. Our finding requires the existence of a transcontinental sediment-dispersal system capable of moving a large volume of detritus westward (modern coordinates) throughout the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)761-764
Number of pages4
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2003


  • (U-Th)He
  • Geochronology
  • Navajo Sandstone
  • U/Pb
  • Zircon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology


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