An 800 million-year detrital zircon record of continental amalgamation: Tarim basin, NW China

A. R. Carroll, T. A. Dumitru, S. A. Graham, M. S. Hendrix

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31 Scopus citations


Sedimentary provenance studies based on detrital zircon ages have proved to be a powerful tool for elucidating detailed patterns of erosion and sediment dispersal on and adjacent to the continents. This approach is commonly used to examine processes that occur over discrete intervals of geologic time, but it can also be used to address fundamental questions concerning the longer-term evolution of the continental crust. Central Asia, for example, consists of a Palaeozoic accretionary collage that contrasts with the cratonal cores of continents such as North America, which were fully consolidated during the Proterozoic. Detrital zircon provenance may thus provide important insights on the comparative evolution of these distinctly different styles of continental growth. The Tarim sedimentary basin is interpreted to be underlain by a micro-continental block that accreted to central Asia during the late Palaeozoic. Detrital zircon in pre-Permian strata of the northern Tarim basin includes Precambrian grains derived from Tarim basement, and Palaeozoic grains related to active tectonism along its margins. During this phase of tectonic amalgamation, overall sediment maturity increased up-section, consistent with similar observations from other cratons. However, in Tarim these trends reverse dramatically in Mesozoic and Cenozoic strata deposited after amalgamation of Tarim with central Asia. Palaeozoic zircon grains derived from the Tian Shan become dominant, Precambrian grains drop to trace abundances, and sandstone composition shift abruptly to immature litharenite. Moreover, a progressively increasing temporal gap occurs between zircon age and depositional age, reflecting the near absence of post-amalgamation magmatic or high-grade metamorphic rocks within the Tian Shan. Collectively, these observations support a model of Tarim and other central Asian basins as islands of long-lived tectonic stability, within an orogenic collage that has remained mobile for >250 million years.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)818-829
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Geology Review
Issue number7
StatePublished - May 1 2013


  • Aksu
  • Altyn Tagh
  • Kalpin
  • Tian Shan
  • Xinjiang
  • accretion
  • petrofacies
  • provenance
  • sandstone
  • tectonic


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