Laser (U-Th)/He thermochronology of detrital zircons as a tool for studying surface processes in modern catchments



[1] Detrital mineral thermochronology of modern sediments is a valuable tool for interrogating landscape evolution. Detrital zircon (U-Th)/He thermochronology is of particular interest because zircons are durable and withstand transport in glacial and fluvial systems far better than, for example, apatite. However, because of the time-intensive nature of conventional zircon (U-Th)/He thermochronology, most previous studies of this kind have relied on data for a few tens of grains, even though conventional wisdom holds that a substantially larger number is necessary for a robust characterization of the population of cooling ages in a sample. Here, we introduce a microanalytical approach to detrital zircon (U-Th)/He thermochronology that addresses many factors that can complicate the interpretation of conventional zircon (U-Th)/He data, particularly with respect to alpha ejection and injection and U + Th zoning. In addition, this technique permits the effective dating of naturally abraded and broken grains, and, therefore, lessens the potential for sampling bias. We apply both conventional and laser microprobe techniques to a detrital sample from the Ladakh Range in the northwestern Indian Himalaya, showing that the two yield very similar principal modes of apparent ages. However, the laser microprobe data yield a broader spectrum of ages than that of the conventional data set, which we interpret to be caused by bias related to the selection requirements for zircons used for conventional dating. This method thus provides a time-efficient route to obtaining a higher-resolution distribution of dates from a single sample, which will, in turn, yield higher-fidelity constraints regarding catchment-wide erosion rates for surface process studies.