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Enhanced diffusion of Uranium and Thorium linked to crystal plasticity in zircon

BioMed Central
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  • Research Article
  • Chemistry


The effects of crystal-plasticity on the U-Th-Pb system in zircon is studied by quantitative microstructural and microchemical analysis of a large zircon grain collected from pyroxenite of the Lewisian Complex, Scotland. Electron backscatter diffraction (EBSD) mapping reveals a c.18° variation in crystallographic orientation that comprises both a gradual change in orientation and a series of discrete low-angle (<4°) boundaries. These microstructural data are consistent with crystal-plastic deformation of zircon associated with the formation and migration of dislocations. A heterogeneous pattern of dark cathodoluminescence, with the darkest domains coinciding with low-angle boundaries, mimics the deformation microstructure identified by EBSD. Geochemical data collected using the Sensitive High Resolution Ion MicroProbe (SHRIMP) shows a positive correlation between concentrations of the elements U, Th and Pb (ranging from 20–60 ppm, 30–110 ppm, and 14–36 ppm, respectively) and Th/U ratio (1.13 – 1.8) with the deformation microstructure. The highest measured concentrations and Th/U coincide with low-angle boundaries. This enrichment is interpreted to reflect enhanced bulk diffusion of U and Th due to the formation and migration of high-diffusivity dislocations. 207Pb/206Pb ages for individual analyses show no significant variation across the grain, and define a concordant, combined mean age of 2451 ± 14 Ma. This indicates that the grain was deformed shortly after initial crystallization, most probably during retrograde Inverian metamorphism at amphibolite facies conditions. The elevated Th over U and consistent 207Pb/206Pb ages indicates that deformation most likely occurred in the presence of a late-stage magmatic fluid that drove an increase in the Th/U during deformation. The relative enrichment of Th over U implies that Th/U ratio may not always be a robust indicator of crystallization environment. This study provides the first evidence of deformation-related modification of the U-Th system in zircon and has fundamental implications for the application and interpretation of zircon trace element data.

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