Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology

, Volume 94, Issue 4, pp 405–415 | Cite as

Confined fission track lengths in apatite: a diagnostic tool for thermal history analysis

  • A. J. W. Gleadow
  • I. R. Duddy
  • P. F. Green
  • J. F. Lovering


Fission-track ages in apatite are generally accepted as giving a measure of the time over which a sample has been exposed to temperatures below approximately 100° C. A compilation of the lengths of confined fission tracks in a wide variety of apatites from different geological environments has shown that the distribution of confined track lengths can provide unique thermal history information in the temperature range below about 150° C over times of the order of 106 to 109 years. The distribution of confined lengths of freshly produced induced tracks is characterised by a narrow, symmetrical distribution with a mean length of around 16.3 μm and a standard deviation of the distribution of approximately 0.9 μm. In volcanic and related rocks which have cooled very rapidly, and never been reheated above about 50° C, the distribution is also narrow and symmetric, but with a shorter mean of 14.5 to 15 μm, and a standard deviation of the distribution of approximately 1.0 μm. In granitic basement terrains which are thought never to have been significantly disturbed thermally, since their original post-emplacement cooling, the distribution becomes negatively skewed, with a mean around 12 or 13 μm and a standard deviation between 1.2 and 2 μm.This distribution is thought to characterise slow continuous cooling from temperatures in excess of 120° C, to ambient surface temperatures. More complex thermal histories produce correspondingly complex distributions of confined tracks. The continuous production of tracks through time, coupled with the fact that the length of each track shrinks to a value characteristic of the maximum temperature it has experienced, gives a final length distribution which directly reflects the nature of the variation of temperature with time. Most distinctive of the myriad possible forms of the final distribution are the bimodal distributions, which give clear evidence of a two-stage history, including high and low temperature phases. The study of confined length distributions therefore offers invaluable evidence on the meaning of any fission-track age, and bears the potential of providing rigorous constraints on thermal history in the temperature regime below about 150° C. The results of this study strongly suggest that any apatite fission-track age determination should be supported by a confined track length distribution.


Apatite Thermal History Length Distribution Continuous Cool Track Length 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. J. W. Gleadow
    • 1
  • I. R. Duddy
    • 1
  • P. F. Green
    • 1
  • J. F. Lovering
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of GeologyUniversity of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia

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