Detrital zircon and apatite (U-Th)/He geochronology of intercalated baked sediments: A new approach to dating young basalt flows

Frances J. Cooper, Matthijs Van Soest, Kip Hodges

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Simple numerical models suggest that many basaltic lava flows should sufficiently heat the sediments beneath them to reset (U-Th)/He systematics in detrital zircon and apatite. This result suggests a useful way to date such flows when more conventional geochronological approaches are either impractical or yield specious results. We present here a test of this method on sediments interstratified with basalt flows of the Taos Plateau Volcanic Field of New Mexico. Nineteen zircons and apatites from two samples of baked sand collected from the uppermost 2 cm of a fluvial channel beneath a flow of the Upper Member of the Servilleta Basalt yielded an apparent age of 3.487 ± 0.047 Ma (2 SE confidence level), within the range of all published 40Ar/ 39Ar dates for other flows in the Upper Member (2.81-3.72 Ma) and statistically indistinguishable from the 40Ar/39Ar dates for basal flows of the Upper Member with which the studied flow is broadly correlative (3.61 ± 0.13 Ma). Given the high yield of 4He from U and Th decay, this technique may be especially useful for dating Pleistocene basalt flows. Detailed studies of the variation of (U-Th)/He detrital mineral dates in sedimentary substrates, combined with thermal modeling, may be a valuable tool for physical volcanologists who wish to explore the temporal and spatial evolution of individual flows and lava fields.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberQ07003
JournalGeochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2011


  • (U-Th)/He
  • New Mexico
  • Rio Grande Rift
  • Taos Plateau Volcanic Field
  • geochronology
  • volcanology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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