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Photoluminescence imaging of whole zircon grains on a petrographic microscope—An underused aide for geochronologic studies

October 1, 2020
The refractory nature of zircon to temperature and pressure allows even a single zircon grain to preserve a rich history of magmatic, metamorphic, and hydrothermal processes. Isotopic dating of micro-domains exposed in cross-sections of zircon grains allows us to interrogate this history. Unfortunately, our ability to select the zircon grains in a heavy mineral concentrate that records the most geochronologic information is limited by our inability to predict internal zonation from observations of whole grains. Here we document the use of a petrographic microscope to observe and image the photoluminescence (PL) response of whole zircon grains excited under ultraviolet (UV) light, and the utility of this PL response in selecting grains for geochronology. While zircon fluorescence has long been known, there is limited documentation of its utility for and application to geochronologic studies. Our observations of zircon from an un-metamorphosed igneous rock, two meta-igneous rocks, and a placer deposit show that variations in the PL color are readily observable in real-time, both among grains in a population of zircons and within single grains. Analyses of cross-sections of the same grains demonstrate that the changes in PL correlate with zoning in backscattered electron (BSE) and cathodoluminescence (CL) images as well as with changes in U + Th concentration and spectroscopic proxies for radiation damage. In other words, the whole grain PL provides a low-resolution preview of the U + Th zoning expected in a cross-sectioned grain. We demonstrate the usefulness of this “preview” in identifying and selecting the subset of zircon grains in a heavy mineral separate that has metamorphic rims of sufficient width to date by secondary ionization mass spectrometry (SIMS). The data are also used to place preliminary constraints on the age and U + Th concentrations at which a yellow PL response is observed in natural samples. The PL response of zircon is well-known among spectroscopists, and these simple applications demonstrate several ways in which the response might be more effectively used by geochronologists.
Publication Year 2020
Title Photoluminescence imaging of whole zircon grains on a petrographic microscope—An underused aide for geochronologic studies
DOI 10.3390/min10100876
Authors Ryan J. McAleer, Aaron M. Jubb, Paul C. Hackley, Gregory J. Walsh, Arthur J. Merschat, Sean P. Regan, William C. Burton, Jorge A. Vazquez
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Minerals
Index ID 70214679
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Eastern Geology and Paleoclimate Science Center; Volcano Science Center; Florence Bascom Geoscience Center