Detrital zircon geochronology reveals that Late Triassic–Early Jurassic fluvial sandstones from the major basins of the South China Craton have similar age patterns and define four populations at 2.6–2.4 Ga, 2.0–1.7 Ga, 850–700 Ma and 480–210 Ma. The late Palaeoproterozoic group is predominant in all of the five samples, and yielded remarkable age peaks at c. 1.85 Ga. These zircons have ϵHf(t) values between −22.5 and +3.6, suggesting derivation from reworked Archaean crust and minor juvenile crustal additions in the late Palaeoproterozoic. These characteristics differ from those of the Yangtze Block but correlate well with those of samples from the eastern Cathaysia Block. Palaeocurrent analysis of the Early Mesozoic sandstones shows predominant west- and NW-directed palaeoflows, supporting derivation of the sediments from the Cathaysia Block. The remarkable similarities in provenance signatures and spatial changes of lithofacies of the Triassic–Jurassic around the South China Craton delineate an east–west-trending sedimentary zone extending from Korea to West China. Accumulation of these sediments was probably related to the development of an active continental margin produced by westward subduction of the Palaeo-Pacific Plate. A c. 2000 km long westerly draining transcontinental palaeoriver probably had existed in the Early Mesozoic and fed the basins in Korea, South China and West China.
Sensitive high-resolution ion microprobe and laser ablation–inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry zircon U–Th–Pb and Hf isotope data are available at www.geolsoc.org.uk/SUP18514.