Interpretation of (U-Th)/He single grain ages from slowly cooled crustal terranes: A case study from the Transantarctic Mountains of southern Victoria Land

P. G. Fitzgerald, S. L. Baldwin, L. E. Webb, P. B. O'Sullivan

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259 Scopus citations


Low temperature thermochronologic techniques (e.g. apatite fission track (AFT) thermochronology and (U-Th)/He dating) constrain near-surface T-t paths and are often applied to uplift/denudation and landscape evolution studies. Samples collected in vertical profiles from granitic walls on either side of the Ferrar Glacier, southern Victoria Land, Antarctica were analyzed using AFT thermochronology and apatite (U-Th)/He dating to further constrain the lowest temperature thermal history of this portion of the Transantarctic Mountains. AFT central ages vary systematically with elevation and together with track length information define a multi-stage cooling/denudation history in the Cretaceous and early Tertiary. Apatite (U-Th)/He single grain age variation with elevation is not as systematic with considerable intra-sample age variation. Although many complicating factors (e.g., U- and Th-rich (micro)inclusions, fluid inclusions, variation in crystal size, α-particle ejection correction, zonation and α-particle ejection correction, implantation of He into a crystal or impediment of He diffusion out of a crystal, and 147Sm-derived α-particles) may contribute to age dispersion, we found that variation in single grain ages correlated with cooling rate. Samples that cooled relatively quickly have less variation in single grain ages, whereas samples that cooled relatively slowly (<3 °C/m.y.) or resided within an (U-Th)/He partial retention zone (HePRZ) prior to more rapid cooling have a comparatively greater variation in ages. Decay of U and Th via α- particle emission creates a 4He concentration profile dependent upon the initial parent [U,Th] within a crystal. Variation of single grain ages for samples with non-homogeneous [U,Th] distributions will be enhanced with long residence time in the partial retention zone (i.e., slow cooling) because of the relative importance of loss via volume diffusion and loss via α-particle ejection with respect to the [U,Th] zonation and the grain boundary. Correction of ages for α-particle ejection (FT correction factor) typically assumes uniform U and Th distribution within the crystal and when applied to a population of crystals with different U and Th distributions will enhance the variation in ages. Most complicating factors (listed above) for apatite (U-Th)/He ages result in ages that are "too old". We propose that if considerable variation in (U-Th)/He single grain ages exists, that a weighted mean age is determined once outlier single crystal ages are excluded using the criterion of Chauvenet or a similar approach. We suggest that the "true age" or most representative age for that age population lies between the minimum (U-Th)/He age and the weighted mean age. We apply this approach, coupled with composite age profiles to better constrain the T-t history of the profiles along the Ferrar Glacier. Significant intra-sample variation in single crystal apatite (U-Th)/He ages and other minerals dated by the (U-Th)/He method should be expected, especially when the cooling rate is slow. The variation of (U-Th)/He single crystal ages is therefore another parameter that can be used to constrain low-temperature thermal histories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)91-120
Number of pages30
JournalChemical Geology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jan 5 2006


  • (U-Th)/He dating
  • Apatite fission track
  • Thermochronology
  • Transantarctic mountains

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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