Tools, Techniques, and Applications For Detrital Thermochronology: From the Lab to the Eastern Sierra Nevada, California

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Geochronology and thermochronology are valuable tools for investigating the synergy between the deformational and erosional processes that shape mountainous terrains. Though numerous techniques have been developed to probe the rate

Geochronology and thermochronology are valuable tools for investigating the synergy between the deformational and erosional processes that shape mountainous terrains. Though numerous techniques have been developed to probe the rate and timing of events within these settings, the research presented here explores how scientists can use fewer samples to produce richer data products with broader contextual importance.

The beginning of this compilation focuses on establishing laboratory techniques to facilitate this goal. I developed a novel laser ablation ‘double dating’ (LADD) technique that rapidly yields paired U/Pb and (U-Th)/He dates for the accessory minerals zircon, titanite, and apatite. The technique obviates the need for geometric corrections typically applied during (U-Th)/He data reduction, enables the analysis of a broader spectrum of detrital crystals, and provides the opportunity for additional mapping and isotopic analyses that are traditionally challenging to procure and/or fraught with assumptions. Despite the technique’s promise, I also found it essential to weigh several considerations of relevance when attempting to date young (≤ Miocene) accessory minerals with low concentrations of U + Th. Consequently, I discuss the impact that such variables have on the magnitude of analytical imprecision and the data’s flexibility for geologic interpretation.

Beyond the lab, I collected a suite of bedrock and detrital samples from small catchments draining the southeastern Sierra Nevada mountains of California. Using the techniques described above as well as conventional methods for (U-Th)/He zircon dating, I compared the utility of both bedrock and detrital approaches for extrapolating local exhumation histories. I additionally tested the ability to employ detrital datasets to extrapolate cooling histories that span from mineral crystallization to rock exhumation through the upper crust. Employing principal mode dates from a combination of zircon and apatite LADD dates and detrital hornblende 40Ar/39Ar dates, I was able to derive thermal models that demonstrate the existence of significant variability in the cooling histories of various intrusive units along the eastern Sierra Nevada. While these results only scratch the surface of what’s possible within the realm of detrital-based research, this contribution demonstrates the utility of expanding the temporal and spatial scope of traditional detrital methodologies.