Recognizing detrital contributions from sediment source regions is fundamental to provenance studies of active and ancient orogenic settings. Detrital zircon U-Pb geochronology of unconsolidated sands from modern rivers that have source catchments with contrasting bedrock signatures provides insight into the fidelity of U-Pb age signatures in discriminating tectonic provenance and downstream propagation of environmental signals. We present 1705 new detrital zircon U-Pb ages for 15 samples of unconsolidated river sands from 12 modern rivers over a large spatial extent of Ecuador (~1°N–5°S and ~79°–77°W).

Results show distinctive U-Pb age distributions with characteristic zircon age populations for various tectonic provinces along the Andean convergent margin, including the forearc, magmatic arc, and internal (hinterland) and external (foreland) segments of the fold-thrust belt. (1) Forearc and magmatic arc (Western Cordillera) river sands are characterized by Neogene–Quaternary age populations from magmatic sources. (2) Rivers in the hinterland (Eastern Cordillera) segment of the Andean fold-thrust belt have substantial populations of Proterozoic and Paleozoic ages, representing upper Paleozoic–Mesozoic sedimentary and metasedimentary rocks of ultimate cratonic origin. (3) River sands in the frontal fold-thrust belt (Subandean Zone to Oriente Basin) show distinctive bimodal Jurassic age populations, a secondary Triassic population, and subordinate Early Cretaceous ages representative of Mesozoic plutonic and metamorphic bedrock.

Detrital zircon U-Pb results from a single regional watershed (Rio Pastaza) spanning the magmatic arc to foreland basin show drastic downstream variations, including the downstream loss of magmatic arc and hinterland signatures and abrupt introduction and dominance of selected sources within the fold-thrust belt. Disproportionate contributions from Mesozoic crystalline metamorphic rocks, which form high-elevation, high-relief areas subject to focused precipitation and active tectonic deformation, are likely the product of focused erosion and high volumes of local sediment input from the frontal fold-thrust belt, leading to dilution of upstream signatures from the hinterland and magmatic arc.

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