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Single-grain, laser-ablation inductively coupled plasma–mass spectrometry analyses of detrital apatites from Pliocene sandstones in the South Caspian Basin (Azerbaijan) and Devonian-Carboniferous sandstones from Clair oil field, west of Shetland (UK), demonstrate that apatite geochemistry has significant potential in provenance analysis. Apatites in Pliocene sandstones deposited by the paleo-Kura River system, which drained the Lesser Caucasus region, were derived largely from mafic to intermediate and alkaline rocks. Apatite populations in Pliocene sediments transported by the paleo-Volga River system, which drained the Russian Platform, show greater compositional diversity and indicate supply from granitoids or other acidic rocks together with subordinate mafic to intermediate and alkaline rocks. Apatites in the Devonian-Carboniferous succession west of Britain were derived predominantly from acidic rocks, either directly from Archean gneisses or indirectly from metasedimentary rocks. In the two case studies, the most useful discriminators of apatite provenance proved to be La/Nd and La + Ce/ΣREE.

Since apatite is stable during burial in sedimentary basins, apatite geochemistry can be used to determine provenance of sandstones from the full range of diagenetic environments, although the instability of apatite during weathering means that the method will be difficult to apply to sandstones with prolonged weathering history. At present, identification of provenance using apatite geochemistry is limited by the lack of a comprehensive database on apatite compositions in some of the potential source rocks, particularly those of metamorphic origin. The role played by sediment recycling is another factor that requires consideration when reconstructing source areas on the basis of apatite compositions.

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