Advancements in mass spectrometry methods over the past two decades have allowed for rapid measurement of (U-Th)/Pb isotopes for geochronologic applications, a tool that has deeply influenced the way sediment provenance and paleo-tectonic reconstructions are approached. Geochronology-based studies of sediment provenance typically rely on dating n ≈ 100–150 single detrital zircon crystals from individual samples, where the sample age distributions are used to make inferences about the parent age distributions, make qualitative geologic interpretations, and/or perform quantitative intersample comparisons. Most efforts to quantitatively compare detrital zircon age spectra make use of non-parametric dissimilarity statistics. Here, we use laser ablation–inductively coupled plasma–mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) U-Pb detrital zircon moderate-n (n ≈ 100) and large-n (n ≈ 1000) results from unconsolidated fluvial sediments of the Río Orinoco delta, eastern Venezuela, to highlight the concealed pitfalls of making geological interpretations based on quantitative comparisons of U-Pb age distributions alone. Three samples analyzed at large n, selected from contrastingly different mean sediment grain sizes along the active channel of the Río Orinoco, yield large dissimilarities amongst their age spectra, resulting in the misleading conclusion that these were likely not sourced from the same parent distribution. We demonstrate that statistically significant differences amongst detrital zircon samples derived from the same (integrated) source region can be introduced by the dynamics of sediment transport, which may in turn lead to erroneous geologic interpretations arising from the inaccurate assumptions that, at present, condition the quantitative treatment of detrital zircon data.

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