Detrital zircons and sediment dispersal in the eastern Midcontinent of North America

William A. Thomas, George E. Gehrels, Kurt E. Sundell, Stephen F. Greb, Emily S. Finzel, Ryan J. Clark, David H. Malone, Brian A. Hampton, Mariah C. Romero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Results of detrital-zircon analyses (U-Pb ages and initial Hf values, εHft) of Mississippian-Pennsylvanian sandstones in the Michigan, Illinois, and Forest City basins are remarkably similar to data for coeval sandstones in the Appalachian basin, indicating dispersal of sediment from the Appalachian orogen through the Appalachian basin to the eastern Midcontinent during the late Paleozoic. The similarities of results include matches of the two most prominent age groups (1300-950 Ma and 490-350 Ma), as well as matches of the less abundant age groups. Comparisons of the data are from observations of probability density plots and multidimensional scaling of U-Pb age data and of εHft values. Despite the dominance of an Appalachian signature in all samples, some samples contain grains with ages that suggest intermittent additional sources. Four samples (three ranging in depositional age from Morrowan to Atokan-Desmoinesian in the Illinois basin, and one of Desmoinesian age in the Forest City basin), in addition to typical Appalachian age distributions, have prominent age modes between 768 and 525 Ma, corresponding in age to Pan-African/Brasiliano rocks in Gondwanan accreted terranes in the Appalachian orogen, suggesting intermittent dispersal from the Moretown terrane of the northern Appalachians. Sandstones in the Appalachian basin and those in the Midcontinent basins have very few grains with ages that correspond to the Alleghanian orogeny in the Appalachian orogen. Nevertheless, three sandstones each in the Illinois basin and Forest City basin with depositional ages of 312-308 Ma have a few zircon grains in the age range of 321 ± 5 to 307 ± 4 Ma. The nearly identical crystallization and depositional ages suggest reworking at the depositional sites of air-fall volcanic ash from the Alleghanian orogen, rather than fluvial transport from the orogen. The basal Pennsylvanian sandstones lap onto a regional unconformity around the northern rims of the Illinois and Forest City basins, suggesting sources for recycled grains. Along the northern edge of the Illinois basin, Ordovician sandstones beneath the unconformity may have contributed minor concentrations of Superior-age zircons in the basal Pennsylvanian sandstones. Basal Pennsylvanian sandstones in the Forest City basin lap onto Mississippian strata, suggesting possible recycling of zircons from eroded Mississippian sandstones.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)817-843
Number of pages27
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Stratigraphy


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