Abstract

The exhumation history of mountain belts can be derived from radiometric dating of detrital mineral grains in proximal and distal post- and synorogenic sediments. The application of single-crystal dating techniques avoids the averaging effect that characterizes multi-grain and whole-rock techniques and allows the identification of populations of grains with distinct thermal histories. Of the major single crystal dating methods available, 40Ar/39Ar dating of detrital K-bearing minerals, in particular white mica, is perhaps the most versatile and widely applied technique. For a closure temperature of Ar of 350–400°C, muscovite 40Ar/39Ar ages record the time a rock mass passed through 8–10 km beneath actively eroding mountain belts. Detrital muscovite ages eroded from orogenic mountain belts have been used extensively to identify the provenance of sediments from source regions with distinct thermal histories, determine the history and rate of exhumation of the source region, and provide an upper limit on the sediment age. Here I review the principles of 40Ar/39Ar dating of detrital muscovite and illustrate the method with examples showing how the provenance and the thermal history of sediment source regions derived from such studies can be used to constrain the exhumation and tectonic history of orogenic belts.

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