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In situ LA-ICPMS U–Pb dating of cassiterite without a known-age matrix-matched reference material: Examples from worldwide tin deposits spanning the Proterozoic to the Tertiary

April 11, 2018

Cassiterite (SnO2), a main ore mineral in tin deposits, is suitable for U–Pb isotopic dating because of its relatively high U/Pb ratios and typically low common Pb. We report a LA-ICPMS analytical procedure for U–Pb dating of this mineral with no need for an independently dated matrix-matched cassiterite standard. LA-ICPMS U-Th-Pb data were acquired while using NIST 612 glass as a primary non-matrix-matched standard. Raw data are reduced using a combination of Iolite™ and other off-line data reduction methods. Cassiterite is extremely difficult to digest, so traditional approaches in LA-ICPMS U-Pb geochronology that utilize well-characterized matrix-matched reference materials (e.g., age values determined by ID-TIMS) cannot be easily implemented. We propose a new approach for in situ LA-ICPMS dating of cassiterite, which benefits from the unique chemistry of cassiterite with extremely low Th concentrations (Th/U ratio of 10−4 or lower) in some cassiterite samples. Accordingly, it is assumed that 208Pb measured in cassiterite is mostly of non-radiogenic origin—it was initially incorporated in cassiterite during mineral formation, and can be used as a proxy for common Pb. Using 208Pb as a common Pb proxy instead of 204Pb is preferred as 204Pb is much less abundant and is also compromised by 204Hg interference during the LA-ICPMS analyses.

Our procedure relies on 208Pb/206Pb vs 207Pb/206Pb (Pb-Pb) and Tera-Wasserburg 207Pb/206Pb vs 238U/206Pb (U-Pb) isochron dates that are calculated for a ~1.54 Ga low-Th cassiterite reference material with varying amounts of common Pb that we assume remained a closed U-Pb system. The difference between the NIST 612 glass normalized biased U-Pb date and the Pb-Pb age of the reference material is used to calculate a correction factor (F) for instrumental U-Pb fractionation. The correction factor (F) is then applied to measured U/Pb ratios and Tera-Wasserburg isochron dates are obtained for the unknown cassiterite analyzed in the same analytical session. This allows for U-Pb dating of cassiterite of any age with no need for an independently dated matrix-matched reference material, nor assumptions about the isotopic composition of common Pb.

Results for cassiterite from tin deposits in Bolivia, Brazil, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, and the United Kingdom, with ages ranging from ~20 Ma to ~2060 Ma, demonstrate the applicability of this approach across a broad range of geologic time. These ages are in good agreement with published geochronology of the host rocks associated with the tin deposits and with previously published U-Pb ages of some cassiterites from the same deposits. Thus, our in situ LA-ICPMS methodology verifies the use of cassiterite as a reliable U-Pb mineral-geochronometer with the advantages of fast and relatively low cost in situ analyses with moderate spatial resolution.