LA-ICPMS U-Pb geochronology of detrital zircon grains from the Coconino, Moenkopi, and Chinle Formations in the Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona)

Gehrels, George; Giesler, Dominique; Olsen, Paul E.; Kent, Dennis V.; Marsh, Andrew; Parker, William G.; Rasmussen, Cornelia; Mundil, Roland; Irmis, Randall B.; Geissman, John W.; Lepre, Christopher J.

Uranium–lead (U–Pb) geochronology was conducted by laser ablation – inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICPMS) on 7175 detrital zircon grains from 29 samples from the Coconino Sandstone, Moenkopi Formation, and Chinle Formation. These samples were recovered from ∼ 520 m of drill core that was acquired during the Colorado Plateau Coring Project (CPCP), located in Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona).

A sample from the lower Permian Coconino Sandstone yields a broad distribution of Proterozoic and Paleozoic ages that are consistent with derivation from the Appalachian and Ouachita orogens, with little input from local basement or Ancestral Rocky Mountain sources. Four samples from the Holbrook Member of the Moenkopi Formation yield a different set of Precambrian and Paleozoic age groups, indicating derivation from the Ouachita orogen, the East Mexico arc, and the Permo-Triassic arc built along the Cordilleran margin.

A total of 23 samples from the Chinle Formation contain variable proportions of Proterozoic and Paleozoic zircon grains but are dominated by Late Triassic grains. LA-ICPMS ages of these grains belong to five main groups that correspond to the Mesa Redondo Member, Blue Mesa Member and lower part of the Sonsela Member, upper part of the Sonsela Member, middle part of the Petrified Forest Member, and upper part of the Petrified Forest Member. The ages of pre-Triassic grains also correspond to these chronostratigraphic units and are interpreted to reflect varying contributions from the Appalachian orogen to the east, Ouachita orogen to the southeast, Precambrian basement exposed in the ancestral Mogollon Highlands to the south, East Mexico arc, and Permian–Triassic arc built along the southern Cordilleran margin. Triassic grains in each chronostratigraphic unit also have distinct U and thorium (Th) concentrations, which are interpreted to reflect temporal changes in the chemistry of arc magmatism.

Comparison of our LA-ICPMS ages with available chemical abrasion thermal ionization mass spectrometry (CA-TIMS) ages and new magnetostratigraphic data provides new insights into the depositional history of the Chinle Formation, as well as methods utilized to determine depositional ages of fluvial strata. For parts of the Chinle Formation that are dominated by fine-grained clastic strata (e.g., mudstone and siltstone), such as the Blue Mesa Member and Petrified Forest Member, all three chronometers agree (to within ∼ 1 Myr), and robust depositional chronologies have been determined. In contrast, for stratigraphic intervals dominated by coarse-grained clastic strata (e.g., sandstone), such as most of the Sonsela Member, the three chronologic records disagree due to recycling of older zircon grains and variable dilution of syn-depositional-age grains. This results in LA-ICPMS ages that significantly predate deposition and CA-TIMS ages that range between the other two chronometers. These complications challenge attempts to establish a well-defined chronostratigraphic age model for the Chinle Formation.


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Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Biology and Paleo Environment
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September 28, 2020