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We used laser ablation–inductively coupled plasma–mass spectrometry to determine the U-Pb ages for 1206 detrital zircons from 15 samples of the Lemhi subbasin, upper Belt Supergroup, in southwest Montana and east-central Idaho. We recognize two main detrital-zircon provenance groups. The first is found in the Swauger and overlying formations. It contains a unimodal 1740–1710 Ma zircon population that we infer was derived from the “Big White” arc, an accretionary magmatic arc to the south of the Belt Basin, with an estimated volume of 1.26 million km3—a huge feature on a global scale. The ɛHf(i) values for magmatic 1740–1710 Ma zircons from the Lawson Creek Formation are +8–0, suggesting that they were derived from more juvenile melts than most other Lemhi subbasin strata, which have values as evolved as −7 and may have been derived from an arc built on Proterozoic or Archean crust in the Mojave Province. Since paleocurrents in cross-bedded sandstones indicate northward flow, the proximate source terrane for this sand was to the south. The second provenance group is that of the Missoula Group (and Cambrian strata recycled from the Missoula Group), with significant numbers of 1780–1750 Ma grains and more than 15% Archean grains. This provenance group is thought to represent mixing of Yavapai Province, Mojave Province, and Archean Wyoming Province sources. Both of these provenance groups differ from the basal Belt Prichard Formation, and strata of the Trampas and Yankee Joe Basins of Arizona and New Mexico, which contain a major population of 1.61–1.50 Ga non–North American grains.

The 12 youngest grains from the several Swauger Formation samples suggest the formation is younger than 1429 Ma. The three youngest grains from Apple Creek Formation diamictite suggest the rock is younger than 1390 Ma. This makes the Apple Creek diamictite the youngest part of Belt Supergroup strata south of the Canadian border. Though the Big White magmatic arc was produced before 1.7 Ga, the sediment may have been recycled several times before being deposited as locally feldspathic sandstone in the Lemhi subbasin depositional site 300 m.y. later. Because the detrital-zircon provenance does not change from Idaho east to Montana, our data do not support the existence of a major Great Divide megashear separating the Lemhi subbasin from the Belt Basin. In southwest Montana, unfossiliferous sandstones of Cambrian age contain the same detrital-zircon assemblages as the Swauger Formation and Missoula Group, suggesting reworking of a local Belt Supergroup source.

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