The provenance history of the Pearl River Mouth Basin is of great significance for understanding how the South China margin evolved from a Mesozoic Andean-type subduction margin into the present-day rifted passive margin. However, the long-term provenance history of continental margin basins in the northern South China Sea is poorly understood. Newly identified Mesozoic−Cenozoic successions from the Lufeng Sag in the eastern Pearl River Mouth Basin provide valuable records of the provenance history and related evolution of the South China margin. Here, we trace the provenance of the eastern Pearl River Mouth Basin using U-Pb ages of zircon and ZTR values (proportions of zircon, tourmaline, and rutile in all transparent heavy minerals) of heavy minerals, and determine the tectonic setting and crustal thickness using trace element ratios and Eu anomalies in zircon. The results show that from the middle Eocene strata—which have a U-Pb age spectrum similar to strata of the Upper Cretaceous—to the Miocene strata, the proportion of Mesozoic age populations gradually increases, while the proportion of Paleozoic age populations decreases. In addition, following the middle Eocene high values, the ZTR values decreased during the late Eocene and then increased during the early Oligocene. Based on the variations in zircon age populations and ZTR values, the middle Eocene sediment is interpreted to have been recycled from Upper Cretaceous to middle Eocene successions, followed by an early Oligocene provenance change from intrabasinal to extrabasinal sources. Moreover, the zircon trace element ratios and Eu anomalies indicate that a widespread Mesozoic continental magmatic arc formed before ca. 90 Ma along the South China margin, and the crust simultaneously thickened during this time. In accordance with the provenance history, the evolution of the South China margin is divided into three tectonic phases: the Paleo-Pacific, Proto-South China Sea, and South China Sea. During the transition from the Paleo-Pacific to the Proto-South China Sea tectonic phase, sediment was recycled from Upper Cretaceous to middle Eocene successions in the eastern Pearl River Mouth Basin. During the transition from the Proto-South China Sea to the South China Sea tectonic phases, the provenance changed from intrabasinal to extrabasinal sources.

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