Hafnium (Hf) isotope composition of zircon has been integrated with U-Pb age to form a long-term (>4 b.y.) record of the evolution of the crust. In contrast, trace element compositions of zircon are most commonly utilized in local- or regional-scale petrological studies, and the most noteworthy applications of trace element studies of detrital zircon have been in “fingerprinting” potential source lithologies. The extent to which zircon trace element compositions varied globally over geological time scales (as, for example, zircon U-Pb age abundance, O isotope composition, and Hf isotope composition seem to have varied) has been little explored, and it is a topic that is well suited to the large data sets produced by detrital zircon studies. In this study we present new detrital zircon U-Pb ages and trace element compositions from a continent-scale basin system in Australia (the Centralian Superbasin) that bear directly on the Proterozoic history of Australia and which may be applicable to broader interpretations of plate-tectonic processes in other regions. U-Pb ages of detrital zircon in the Centralian Superbasin are dominated by populations of ca. 1800, 1600, 1200, and 600 Ma, and secular variations of zircon Hf isotope ratios are correlated with some trace element parameters between these major age populations. In particular, elevated εHf(i) (i.e., radiogenic “juvenile” Hf isotope composition) of detrital zircon in the Centralian Superbasin tends to correspond with relatively high values of Yb/U, Ce anomaly, and Lu/Nd (i.e., depletion of light rare earth elements). These correlations seem to be fundamentally governed by three related factors: elemental compatibility in the continental crust versus mantle, the thickness of continental crust, and the contributions of sediment to magmas. Similar trace element versus εHf(i) patterns among a global zircon data set suggest broad applicability. One particularly intriguing aspect of the global zircon data set is a late Neoproterozoic to Cambrian period during which both zircon εHf(i) and Yb/U reached minima, marking an era of anomalous zircon geochemistry that was related to significant contributions from old continental crust.

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