Zircon is an ubiquitous mineral in most crystalline rocks as well as clastic sediments. The high resistance to thermal resetting and physical erosion makes zircon an exceptionally useful mineral for precise and accurate dating of thermal geological events. For example, the analysis of the U-Pb ages of detrital zircon grains in clastic sediments is a powerful tool in sedimentary provenance studies. Accurate and precise U-Pb ages of > 100 zircon grains in a sample usually allow to detect all major sedimentary source age components with statistical confidence. U-Pb age dating of detrital zircons is generally the domain of high resolution ion microprobe techniques (high resolution SIMS), where relatively rapid in situ analysis can be achieved. The major limitations of these techniques are sample throughput (about 75 zircon age dates per 24 hours), the very high purchasing and operating costs of the equipment and the need for highly specialised personnel, resulting in high cost. These high costs usually impose uncomfortable restrictions on the number of samples that can be analysed in a provenance study. Here, we present a high sample throughput technique for highly accurate and precise U-Pb dating of zircons by laser ablation magnetic sectorfield inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-SF-ICP-MS). This technique takes advantage of recent progress in laser technology and the introduction of magnetic sectorfield ICP-MS instruments. Based on a ThermoFinnigan Element2 magnetic sctorfield ICP-MS and a New Wave UP 213 laser ablation system, this techniques allows U-Pb dating of zircon grains with precision, accuray and spatial resolution comparable to high resolution SIMS. Because an individual analysis is carried out in less than two minutes and all data is acquired automated in pre-set mode with only minimal operator presence, the sample throughput is an order of magnitude higher compared to high resolution SIMS. Furthermore, the purchasing and operating costs of LA-SF-ICP-MS are only a fraction of the costs of high resolution SIMS. We therefore conclude that LA-SF-ICP-MS is the cost-saving technique of the future for studies that require accurate and precise U-Pb age dates of large populations of zircons, like those typically employed in provenance studies based on detrital zircons.
- Programme Area 4: Mineral Resources