Abstract

Although detrital zircon has proven to be a powerful tool for determining provenance, past work has focused primarily on delimiting regional source terranes. Here we explore the limits of spatial resolution and stratigraphic sensitivity of detrital zircon in ascertaining provenance, and we demonstrate its ability to detect source changes for terranes separated by only a few tens of kilometers. For such an analysis to succeed for a given mountain, discrete intrarange source terranes must have unique U/Pb zircon age signatures and sediments eroded from the range must have well-defined depositional ages. Here we use ∼1400 single-grain U/Pb zircon ages from northeastern Tibet to identify and analyze an area that satisfies these conditions. This analysis shows that the edges of intermontane basins are stratigraphically sensitive to discrete, punctuated changes in local source terranes. By tracking eroding rock units chronologically through the stratigraphic record, this sensitivity permits the detection of the differential rock uplift and progressive erosion that began ca. 8 Ma in the Laji Shan, a 10-25-km-wide range in northeastern Tibet with a unique U/Pb age signature.

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